Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ovenman

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM

When Thinfinger — that's actually his first name, When — spins pizza for a paycheck and hangs with the skateboard crowd. But he ain't no Hero Protagonist, and he knows Y.T. would be way too much cyberpunk chica to handle. No, this hapless lead character of Ypsilanti resident Jeff Parker's new novel, Ovenman, keeps his sights set lower than the curbs he ollies on his much-suffering board. And even these expectations prove too much for him to handle at times.

He isn't out for money. Sex bores him, and he can barely handle the vapidities of his current fix, Marigold, a "people groomer" whose inability to bunnyhop her bike lands her in a Star Wars-esque back-brace for the duration of the novel. Whatever kind bud he scores goes straight out the window into the Floridian wind. Turns out Thinfinger, pilfered grenade in hand, lives only to run a tight ship at the pie shop while lackadaisically wondering who his real father is, or how he can cover the bad tattoo job sprawling over his arms and obscuring his sense of self.

Parker's cast of philosophical slackers populates a distressingly familiar American landscape: a college town's dive bars and pizza ghettos, where twentysomethings trade kegs of Newcastle for notoriety and subsist on self-consciously stolen 20s in their efforts to stick it to the man. Everyone's a bad singer in a bad band and a nickname goes a long way. Thinfinger bears uneasy witness to the misfortunes of his posse of picaresque: Shaka Bra, felled by self-inflicted branding, and Greg the Witch, simply by bad timing.

Still, he soldiers on to live up to his own nickname: Ovenman. He's the badass who runs the Bakers Pride Y-602 double-decker pizza oven at 550 degrees. He can't stand a poorly cleaned fryer. He mops the floors till they gleam. In a place permeated with the underwhelming, Ovenman takes pride in his pizza management skills. He manages the staff with his own code of ethics, which includes ordering employees to take beer-and-joint breaks. He just wants to stay one drunken step ahead of disaster. Likewise, he isn't out to shatter your world. You're not going to find the tightest plot, or the highest stakes. But you will find a keen little novel with a bruised pair of knuckles and an infectiously wry, smartass tone you'll want to ride all the way. Slack on.

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