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By Joshua Mohr
Soft Skull Press / Counterpoint
I was a big fan of Joshua Mohr's debut novel, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, back when I read it in 2010; and after another novel in 2011 that I missed, Damascus, I just had a chance to read his brand-new one, Fight Song by the now Counterpoint-owned Soft Skull Press, which I not only liked just as much but found a lot more entertaining. A Jonathan-Franzen-style comedy about the foibles of a dysfunctional family, for most of this book we are following the misadventures of our hapless hero Bob Coffen, a meek and overweight videogame developer who is dealing with a whole series of quirky situations -- a wife training to break the world record in water-treading, a female bodybuilder and fast-food attendant who also runs a "drive-thru speaker-sex" business on the side, a janitor who's also a guitarist for a French KISS cover band, and a New Age marriage counselor who's also a professional magician, among others. And in fact, Mohr's solid and mature handling of what could've been a a spiral down into B-movie mayhem reminded me many times of another book that got this balance really right, Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys; for like that novel, Mohr has a good grasp over believable and complex characters, but nicely spices it up with a considerable amount of absurdism and even sometimes outright slapstick. A book that will be a little too silly for some, it'll be perfect for existing fans of literary writers who do smart comedy right, from Tom Perrotta to Jane Smiley to John Irving, and is the novel that finally starts vaulting the talented Mohr up into the same ranks of all the people just mentioned. Strongly recommended.
Out of 10: 9.4