April 22, 2010


I’ll Mature When I’m Dead. By Dave Barry. Putnam. $24.95.

     Dave Barry has long worn his utter immaturity as a badge of honor, so fans are bound to be astonished or even upset at a book whose subtitle is, “Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood.” But have no fear: the astonishment is designed only to separate you from 25 bucks. Almost everything here is as emotionally regressed as always.

     The book also makes a big deal about being filled with “all new” material, “except for one piece,” which is called “Colonoscopy” and happens to be about the closest Barry has ever gotten to tackling a genuinely adult theme, even to the point of offering to have readers send him a self-addressed, stamped envelope after getting a colonoscopy, at which point “I will send you back a certificate, signed by me and suitable for framing if you don’t mind framing a cheesy certificate, stating that you are a grown-up who got a colonoscopy.” This may actually have induced some people to get colonoscopies, which is a good thing that people over age 50 had better get done quickly before the new health-care law either makes colonoscopies illegal or requires them three times a week and forces your grandchildren to pay for them, depending on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.

     Barry, by the way, does deal with the American health-care system in one of his all-new essays here, in which he points out that turning health care over to the federal government “is like saying that if your local police department has a corruption problem, the solution is to turn law enforcement over to the Sopranos.” Instead, Barry recommends avoiding medical care altogether.

     Among the other “adult” themes that Barry explores here is “Tips for Visiting Miami: No. 1 – Are You Insane?” This includes such “adult” information as an anecdote about a dead shark on a public-transportation vehicle. And then there is “My Hollywood Career,” which includes the plot summary of Howard the Duck and some plot ideas from Barry and fellow would-be big-time Hollywood success story Gene Weingarten that are, believe it or not, even worse.

     By now, you may be wondering where the “adult” part of the book comes in – maybe some sex and violence somewhere? No such luck. Barry prefers mature writing to mature themes, as in this explanation of how the Wheel-O toy worked: “You tilted the frame so the wheel rolled down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, and so on.” (This is an exact quotation and explains why book critics are so well paid.) Barry here gets points for accuracy but none for style.

     A couple of other “adult” features in this book are parodies that require readers to have an intimate knowledge of entertainment garbage, specifically the TV show 24 and the latest spinoff of the Twilight series, whatever that may be this week. Don’t bother reading “24: The Ultimate Script” or “Fangs of Endearment: A Vampire Novel” if you don’t know what Barry is parodying, or you will be either disappointed or bored – which is similar to being “disappointed” but costs $24.95. If you do know what Barry is writing about, though, the vampire-novel sendup is particularly toothsome; and a good thing, too, since it is the longest piece in the book.

     Unfortunately, I’ll Mature When I’m Dead does not end with undead bloodsuckers but with its two weakest essays, “A Festival of Grimness” and “Father of the Groom,” which – probably not coincidentally – are the most overtly “adult” pieces here. The first of them is about parents who go nuts when their kids play sports, and features Barry dispensing actual good advice that, coming from him, sounds weird: “There are more important things in life than winning. Such as not being a jerk.” This from a professional jerk? Okay, he is not that kind of jerk, but still. And the very last essay is about Barry’s son’s wedding day, and features Barry getting sentimental over the vows that the bride and groom wrote for each other: “When he told her, with pure and simple eloquence, how much he loved her, his voice broke, and every woman watching went aww, and Laura’s eyes shone like moonlight on a mountain lake.” At this point, every loyal Dave Barry fan is going to be looking carefully at the book and, in unison, retching. Because that sort of expressive prose is so not Dave Barry. It is too emotional, too sentimental, too serious, too caring, too…adult. Better to stop reading the book after page 233 (the last page of the vampire parody) if you don’t want to find out what happens when Dave Barry actually does try to do something adult. Because, really, he doesn’t do “adult” very well. If you want to read real adult material from a Florida-based keen observer of the human condition, you should be reading, say, Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey. But that, as they say, is another story.

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