- Best. State. Ever.
- by Dave Barry
- Publisher – G.P. Putnam’ Sons
- Copyright – 2016
- 229 pages
Rating – 7/10
Review – I’d been wallowing in crime books for far too long and needed something lighter. So, Dave Barry seemed the perfect antidote – light, funny, and without the dead bodies. My wife checked Dave’s latest – Best. State. Ever. – out from our local library. I wouldn’t have read the book had she not gotten it, but it delivered the break that I needed.
If you have read Barry in the past, you know what he delivers – laugh-out-loud humor with a few serious themes slipped in while you aren’t quite looking. Best. State. Ever. Focuses on Barry’s love-hate relationship with his adopted home state of Florida. Dave sets the tone by describing Florida as “a subtropical festival of stupid” (p. 7). The rest of the book follows in this vein.
Best. State. Ever. is a fun, short book. The chapters are broken into loosely-connected vignettes, bound only by the Florida theme. Those who are familiar with Barry’s popular syndicated column will feel right at home. The book is a very-short 229 pages with large type & huge margins; I read it in a few hours – and had a nap in the middle.
Dave runs through some of the usual Florida sites, including –
- The Everglades
- The Weeki Watchee Mermaids
- Key West
- An upscale retirement community called The Villages
- And Miami’s trendy nightclub scene.
He avoids Disney and – from his comments – obviously dislikes the place. Barry seems to like the offbeat, tacky dives that dominated Florida’s tourism before the state became trendy.
To my surprise, one of the best chapter was “Lock & Load Miami” about Dave’s trip to a Miami gun range to fire automatic weapons. I’m not a gun person, so it surprised me that I enjoyed Barry’s offbeat take. (When blasting away at a human-shaped silhouette, Dave imagines that he’s shooting the guy at the airport departure area who speaks too loudly on his cellphone). My wife also said that the chapter was one of her favorites.
Broken Down Mold-A-Matics
Adding to the gonzo spirit, Barry rates each of the Florida attractions that he visits from one to five broken-down Mold-A-Matics. (A Mold-A-Matic is a machine that – for a fee – produces a molded-plastic souvenir in the shape of something pertaining to the tourist site that you are visiting).
Dave finally finds a functioning Mold-A-Matic at an attraction called Gatorland. (It’s one of the best chapters in the book). He cannot resist depositing his $2 –
“I approach the Mold-A-Matic cautiously, fearful that I will spook it into suddenly being out of order. Carefully I insert two dollar bills. I watch in amazement as the Mold-A-Matic wheezes and whirs, then produces the toy, which is a replica made of what appears to be radioactive mucus, of a hat-wearing man who appears to be having sex with an alligator” (pp. 166-167).
Below this description, the book has a grainy, black-and-white photo of Barry’s souvenir. Best. State. Ever. Has dozens of Barry’s photos; they aren’t very clear, but they bring the story to life.
Changes in Attitude
If there’s a place where the book falters, it comes when Barry tries to be serious. Often, he slips such material in between the lines. For instance, Barry makes many references to aging, dying, and death. It’s not all fun and games and when Barry stops telling jokes, the juxtaposition makes you feel whiplashed.
The quality of the material varies a lot. When Barry is having a good time, the reader enjoys the experience with him. But his chapter on the Everglades is a bit of a downer, not funny and not hopeful. The book’s final chapter – on Key West – isn’t bad, but it’s a tired take on a much-discussed place.
Sunset on the Water
Best. State. Ever. Isn’t going to change your life. It’s fun, lightweight reading and the pages turns with great ease. Barry makes his fellow Floridians into his personal punching bag and you’ll laugh out loud as you read.