Joshua Mohr, 250 pgs, Soft Skull Press, softskull.com, $15.95
We meet unhappy middle-aged suburbanite Bob Coffen as he teeters on the cusp of a murderer’s row of crises: the failure of his marriage, alienation from his kids, soul-death at his once- loved, now rote video game designer gig and a generalized loss of control over… well… everything.
Author Joshua Mohr sends his protagonist on a weekend-long odyssey of self-discovery and fully-immersive, Tom Robbins-inflected whimsy in a last-ditch bid for redemption. Through compressed, weirdly-titled chapters —“Scroo Dat Pooch”; “You are my testes-hero” — Bob encounters a twice-kidnapped marriage-counselling magician, drive-thru phone sex, truth serum lasagna, a French language Kiss cover band led by a janitor, virtual urban bestiality, and the list goes on and on and on. The problem is, all this industrial-strength irreverence, while mostly hilarious in microcosm, is eventually exhausting in the aggregate. There is no dynamic variation; the quirk always goes to 11.
In fairness, Mohr has some fairly sizable fish to fry at points, offering both an indictment of capitulatory, dream- stifling suburbia, and a plea to punch through our prevailing iPad/video game-mediated sensibility of artifice and detachment. And, as exemplified by a recollection of Bob’s damaged mother dealing with his father’s desertion by means (improbably) of pickled goods, he’s capable of ginning up genuinely affecting scenes of emotional heft. But this serious spadework is always sublimated to the prime directive of outlandish eccentricity.
Fight Song ends with a wacky meteorological anomaly that is both giddily uplifting and conceptually confusing; is Bob supposed to give his head a shake and engage with the real world or isn’t he? As ever, effect trumps theme.
Mohr has imagination for days, but maybe not yet the superego to control it. If he can harness his powers for good, there is a sensational book in him. For now, this feels a bit like a beta test. (Paul Duder)