Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café

M Henderson Ellis, Author
M. Henderson Ellis. New Europe (NewEuropeBooks.com), $14.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9825781-8-6
Reviewed on: 12/03/2012
Release date: 02/12/2013
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As the title suggests, disorder predominates in Ellis’s debut novel set in Prague during the dizzying days of the early 1990s. John Shirting is a quirky and unbalanced former barista from Chicago with a pill habit who winds up in the newly capitalist city hawking a plan to establish a chain of mobster-themed coffee shops. A lost soul with a passion for customer service, Shirting becomes embroiled in ventures that are threatened by the many nameless forces vying for the soul of the city. Along the way he wanders into diffuse adventures, from a disquisition with a skinhead and his pet pig to a game of Frogger with a mysterious prostitute. He also encounters a colorful array of expats, including a pair of professional golem hunters, an old nemesis who has acquired outré sexual proclivities involving tranquilized cats, as well some philosophically inclined pornographers. The picaresque absurdity will be familiar to fans of Thomas Pynchon, along with the low-grade paranoia and aggressively whimsical dialogue. The occasional self-indulgent metaphysical discourse and derivative style, however, are offset by genuine imagination and an energetic wit. Ellis vividly re-creates the atmosphere of a city in the throes of transformation as well as the American Quixotes who populate this new frontier. (Feb. 12)
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