Bob Coffen is having a tough time. So much so, he might as well be living in his own last name. He doesn’t get much help from his aptly named boss, Malcolm Dumper. Bob’s reward for 10 years of service at Dumper Games is a combination plaque and clock: a plock. The plaque reads, “It’s always time to work!” The clock doesn’t work, though; both hands are stuck at 12.
Bob’s gut tells him that means midnight. He has reached the nadir of his life, The Plock Of Despair.
That last phrase titles the first chapter of Joshua Mohr’s fourth novel, Fight Song, a bittersweet comic travail through a midlife crisis that is surreal and sentimental, insightful, yet off-the-wall. Although Bob’s life may be lost in the dark nadir of midnight, Mohr’s comedic narrative talents are clearly functioning at the bright zenith of high noon.
Mohr’s sally into the genre of middle-aged angst starts off with the time honored formula: a man realizes that he has lost his way. His job no longer satisfies him. He no longer satisfies his wife. His children despise him. Something has to give. At this point, the formula tells us, the genre can proceed down the road of deadly serious drama, concoct a mixture of drama and comedy or, quite often, head around the bend towards the farcical.
Although full of gentle insight and loving characterization, Mohr’s Fight Song does more than bend towards the farcical. It bends over and takes it to the extreme.
The adventure begins when Coffen’s football and competition obsessed neighbor Schumann challenges him to a race between Schumann’s SUV and Bob’s bicycle (“I promise I won’t go more than 7 mph”). Schumann then proceeds to run Bob off the road and into the the oleanders. When he later goes to Schumann’s house for a confrontation, Bob finds Schumann celebrating victory by playing ‘Hail Purdue’ on the bagpipes. Not long after, humiliated and desperate, Bob accepts Schumann’s offer to be his life coach and assist him in finding his own fight song.
The initiatory mayhem that follows includes the kidnapping of a stage magician cum marriage counselor who just might have turned Schumann into a mouse, a waitress at a fast food drive-thru who moonlights as a verbal dominatrix through the restaurant’s intercom, and a middle-aged Kiss cover band with a French lead singer (hence their moniker — “French Kiss”). And that barely gets you started.
As with his previous novels, Mohr displays a mastery of insightful metaphor (Bob’s estranged wife is in training to break the Guiness Record for the longest time treading water), comic set pieces, and a genuine love for his hapless characters.
In the end, along with all the laughs, readers will believe in, and care about, these characters and this world.