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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.
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.