The Holy Book of the Beard

Overview

Jasper John arrives in San Diego on a broken-down Harley, ready to put a hell-raising and felonious adolescence behind him. He attends college part-time, but the employees and regulars at Fat Stanley's Diner become his real teachers. Along the way there's death, a good many brawls, and a valiant attempt to produce Shakespeare's most famous love story as a pornographic film - all while Jasper struggles to become a man and searches for love in a world that seems to be spinning out...
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Overview

Jasper John arrives in San Diego on a broken-down Harley, ready to put a hell-raising and felonious adolescence behind him. He attends college part-time, but the employees and regulars at Fat Stanley's Diner become his real teachers. Along the way there's death, a good many brawls, and a valiant attempt to produce Shakespeare's most famous love story as a pornographic film - all while Jasper struggles to become a man and searches for love in a world that seems to be spinning out of control.

A joyous, earthy, raunchy feast of a novel that calls to mind John Irving and Ken Kesey, The Holy Book of the Beard takes the classic tale of the young man in the big city out for a riotous, thoroughly nineties spin. Infusing the day-to-day and the mundane with the stuff of legend, deftly mingling farce and tragedy, Brenna has fashioned a contemporary tour de force.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Amid unmistakable signs of physical, spiritual and social decay, an oddly hopeful sense of community endures among the motley cast of eccentric misfits captured in Brenna's (The Book of Mamie) enthralling second novel. Set around Fat Stanley's Diner in East San Diego, this alternately sad, funny, grotesque and sexy yarn centers on Jasper John, a 23-year-old busboy and part-time college student who left Colorado on an unreliable Harley to start a new life in California. Good-hearted Fat Stanley, a frustrated tenor who occasionally sings arias for his customers while cooking lunch, tends to hire waitresses with serious health problems-Helga is receiving chemotherapy; Mary Quick pops nitroglycerin for her heart. Among the customers, Godot, a rundown religion professor under attack by fundamentalists, and Henry Hand, Mary's charismatic, troublemaking ex-pimp husband, become strong influences on the searching Jasper. Vivid characters, rich dialogue and spellbinding narrative make this odd mix of tragedy, myth and ribaldry memorable and often moving. If the lingering denouement is a bit unsatisfying, the journey there is sheer delight. (Mar.)
Library Journal
As a busboy at a San Diego diner and a part-time student, young Jasper John must navigate among a motley group of co-workers and friends. His religion professor turns Romeo and Juliet into a porno movie script and attempts "dephallicizing" himself to protest academic politics. Jasper's boss seeks love in bizarre personal advertisements and sings opera while tending to the grill. A waitress mourns her dead son and searches for signs in the letters of a Scrabble game and a potato shaped "like Christ's cracking heart." In his erratic passage to maturity, Jasper escapes the sexual wiles of confessional poet Didi Godunov and the criminal schemes of Henry Hank. Amid raunchy schemes of copulation and grim glimpses of death, Jasper acquires limited but valuable insights. In his second novel (following The Book of Mamie, Univ. of Iowa, 1989) Brenna's characters are vibrant and engaging but his plot is episodic and occasionally tedious. For larger fiction collections.-Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Kirkus Reviews
Brenna (The Book of Mamie, 1989) comes of age a second time, here in the guise of a biker called Jasper John—an adolescent rebel who eventually settles down with some help from assorted weirdos who work in a San Diego diner.

Fat Stanley's place is your run-of-the-mill greasy spoon, but most of its hangers-on could have been scripted by Quentin Tarrantino. Fat Stanley himself has a baroque streak, is fond of opera, and is devoted to Helga—a waitress dying of cancer—and her children. Mary Quick, another waitress, is a born-again Christian whose conversion from prostitution hasn't driven her from the arms of Henry Hank, her old pimp—a con man and spinner of tales who takes the 22-year-old Jasper in hand and tries to make something of him. When Godot (one of Jasper's college teachers) gets fired, Henry convinces the professor that the real money is in porn and that Jasper is his leading man. Before long, Jasper is living with Henry and Mary and working as the lead in Godot's very free Shakespearian adaptation (ReemHerHold & JuleeTit), until an argument between Jasper and his girlfriend, Didi Godunov, disrupts the production. Didi is a poet given to self-indulgence on professional grounds, and she succeeds in teaching Jasper that "everything written, even `true' confession, is fiction, is, ultimately, a lie." By the close, Helga's death has managed to sober up most of the characters, and Jasper starts to get the hang of being adult and thinking about his future as a grownup and a writer. He gives no sign of turning into Henry V, however, and seems to need Henry Hank's misadventures to the very end.

Loose and rambling to a fault: Brenna doesn't set up the outline of his story soon enough, and seems not to know what to do with it once it arrives. Stylistically assured, then, but badly stunted.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780981780276
  • Publisher: New American Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2010
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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