"[Mohr] has a generous understanding of his characters, whom he describes with an intelligence and sensitivity that pulls you in."—The New York Times Book Review (editors' choice) on Termite Parade
It's 2003 and the country is divided evenly for and against the Iraq War. Damascus, a dive bar in San Francisco's Mission District, becomes the unlikely setting for a showdown between the opposing sides.
Tensions come to a boil when Owen, the bar's proprietor who has recently taken to wearing a Santa suit full-time, agrees to host the joint's first (and only) art show by Sylvia Suture, an ambitious young artist who longs to take her act to the dramatic precipice of the high-wire by nailing live fish to the walls as a political statement.
An incredibly creative and fully rendered cast of characters orbit the bar. There's No Eyebrows, a cancer patient who has come to the Mission to die anonymously; Shambles, the patron saint of the hand job; Revv, a lead singer who acts too much like a lead singer; and Owen, donning his Santa costume to mask the most unfortunate birthmark imaginable.
Damascus is the place where confusion and frustration run out of room to hide. By gracefully tackling such complicated topics as cancer, Iraq, and issues of self-esteem, Joshua Mohr has painted his most accomplished novel yet.
Joshua Mohr is the San Francisco Chronicle best-selling author of Some Things That Meant the World to Me and Termite Parade, a New York Times Book Review editors' choice selection.
Browbeaten characters belly up to a San Francisco saloon in Mohr's third novel, rife with themes of humanity, passion, and determined resilience. Damascus, a seedy Mission District dive bar (where "every interchange was a con, every night, a pitiful costume party"), is the home away from home for a ragtag troupe of oddballs headlined by cancer patient "No Eyebrows"; hand-job hooker Irene, aka "Shambles"; the numbingly insecure bar owner, Owen, of an unfortunate birth mark who dresses as Santa; and local artist Syl, best friend to Owen's lesbian niece, Daphne. Syl is debuting her controversial painting installation of 12 dead soldiers at Damascus, much to the furyof injured Iraq war veteran Byron Settles, who, over the course of the story, conspires to destroy both the artwork and the bar. More impressive, however, is the coupling of Shambles and No Eyebrows. Her growing affection for the rapidly deteriorating cancer victim makes for an unlikely yet intense pairing that Mohr (Termite Parade) lovingly develops with unfettered affection. It's the story line that carries the rest of the book. Not all the circumstances gel; a street scene confrontation with Owen and the father of a little girl who comments that Owen looks like Adolf Hitler feels contrived as does the overwritten hostage scene and firestorm at Damascus, but this accom-plished effort demonstrates Mohr's rich, resonant prose, authentically rendered settings, and deft characterization.
Well written with deeply drawn characters. Plot could use more focus.