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Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafeby M Henderson Ellis
Synopses & Reviews
Not long ago, John Shirting--quiet young Chicagoan, wizard of self-medication--held down a beloved job as a barista at Capo Coffee Family, a coffee chain and global business powerhouse. When he is deemed "too passionate" about his job, he is let go. Shirting makes it his mission to return to the frothy Capo's fold by singlehandedly breaking into a new market and making freshly postcommunist Prague safe for free-market capitalism. Unfortunately, his college nemesis, Theodore Mizen, a certified socialist, has also moved there, and is determined to reverse the Velvet Revolution, one folk song at a time. After Shirting experiences the loss of his sole "new-hire" — a sad, arcade game-obsessed prostitute — it is not long before his grasp on his mission and, indeed, his sanity, comes undone, leaving him at the mercy of two-bit Mafiosi, a pair of Golem trackers, and his own disgruntled phantom.
A dazzling combination of Everything is Illuminated and Don Quixote, with a jigger of Confederacy of Dunces, and Lord of the Barnyard, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café is the first novel to so exquisitely capture the ambiance of expat Prague. Poised to be an underground classic, it asks: what does it mean to be sane in a fast-changing world?
"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 outrÃ© 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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
M. Henderson Ellis lived in Prague for two years in the first half of the 1990s and there taught English and tended bar. A Chicago-area native and a graduate of Bennington College, he has lived in Budapest, Hungary, since 2001, where in 2004 he co-founded the English-language literary review Pilvax, which he edits to this day. He makes his living as a writer and freelance editor at Wordpillediting.com.
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