Top-notch stylist Brenna returns with a fourth confederacy of grotesques and with gusto and love reveals their big, gnarled hearts and stunted minds.
As in his earlier novels (Too Cool, 1998, etc.), Brenna keeps his pathos simple and unsentimental. Self-named for stage competitions, Buck Root, a sly bodybuilder as seductive as Schwarzenegger but with far fewer brains, has aged. His steroid Dynamo has taken its toll, leading to seizures, as have the Nova Life pills he hustles so sweetly: “One-a-day cures old age, stops cancer in its tracks and renews the hormonal balance of the inner organs.” Once a 90-pound weakling, often pushed around by Joe Cuff, Buck, born Michelangelo Buonarotti Routelli, comes home to Medicine Lake, Minnesota, his six feet two frame now bulked up to 235 pounds, with vengeance in mind. The day he wins the Mr. Minneapolis Thighs trophy, Buck arrives at his out-of-shape cousin George McLeod’s messy house, pushing a dead Lincoln Continental bearing Joy Faust, a gorgeous Vegas dancer he stole from her husband six years ago; Joy’s senile mother Livia, her brain pulped by Westerns; and Livia’s aging, ailing dog Ho Tep. Joy, like Buck, is a product of art, her flesh enhanced by knife-trims, liposuction, and bust-stuffers. Her intermittently giddy mother, withered, toothless, and brainless, was once a trained dancer as gorgeous as Joy. Now she’s what Joy and Buck must look forward to as time sucks dry their godlike but failing flesh. But when this Cyrano of testosterone, abounding in endless bad jokes and cribbed verses he addresses to Joy, sends his beloved out to dance at The Body Shop, all hell follows—doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, down to the liquid center of the earth.
A monstrous beauty—but might Arnold scale himself down to play Michelangelo’s moody, brightly dense Dying Gladiator? No, it’s too much to hope for.