Surely this is the only novel, comic or otherwise, starring an agrostologist, and this one escapes what seems to be a very long bad dream with his pride, if little else.
This story’s protagonist and narrator, a likable schlub named Joe (called “Slim” for most of the novel), is a grass botanist, or “grassman.” He comes under the sway of Bill Borrington, a man who exemplifies that hackneyed phrase, “a force of nature.” Bill always has some mad scheme going, and this one involves growing one’s own putting green. Joe knows that the project is doomed from the start, like Bill’s plan to breed prize beef cattle from one bull that’s literally on its last legs, but he’s also broke and desperate. Readers then meet a cast of characters that includes two sycophantic lawyers that never leave Bill’s side; the exotic, ravishing Autumn Bliss (with whom Joe unsurprisingly falls in love), the evil Zomboni sisters, and others. Bill is demanding, but also a bit of a flake; Joe has to recruit his own workforce from local winos, as the crew that Bill got from the women’s prison didn’t work out. He does manage to build a pond, dam, and irrigation system on Muddy Brook, which meanders through the property, but that doesn’t work out either. Meanwhile, the Zomboni sisters have put a curse on all of Bill’s endeavors, so that just the thought of them reduces him to a quivering wreck. Young (Hail, Cigaros!, 2016) is genuinely witty and seems to be enjoying himself as he keeps the plot stirred. He’s not on the level of, say, Peter De Vries, but readers will await more comic novels from him. The basic joke in this story is Joe’s insecurity and his relentless anxiety about being found out; he is a bona fide agrostologist, but he also knows he’s taken on an impossible task. On the other hand, he does have his resourceful moments, and there’s never a time when readers aren’t rooting for him. He finally escapes the wreckage of Muddy Brook Farm, counting himself lucky, and readers will count themselves satisfied.
This tale will give readers some laughs on a summer afternoon, which is all one asks of it.