An engaging protagonist and a lively style aren’t enough to salvage this over-the-top first novel by the former champion pro wrestler (Foley Is Good, not reviewed; etc.).
Narrator Antietam (“Andy”) Brown V is a 17-year-old high-school freshman reconnecting with his absentee father and experiencing a delayed adolescence following “a lifetime of foster homes, orphanages, and juvenile detention centers.” Antietam IV isn’t your ordinary dad: he exercises naked, encourages Andy to follow in his Herculean sexual footsteps, and plots revenge on neighbors whose outdoor holiday decorations outshine his own. Andy has emulated his father’s ferocity, having killed two people before age 14 (as vivid flashbacks gradually reveal). And he has sexual designs on gorgeous born-again Christian cheerleader Terri, plans that are repeatedly foiled by abuse from jocklike fellow students and their foulmouthed idol (and, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, Andy’s sworn enemy), history teacher-football coach Hanrahan. Foley gets good seriocomic mileage out of Andy’s addled relationship with his volatile, interfering father, who’s initially presented as a broadly comic character, then shown to be a psychotic train wreck of a man with a tangled history of loss, grief, and vengeful breakdowns. And one admires such charmingly weird images as that of “Terri’s bare breasts springing from her bra, like a wire snake from a salted peanut can.” But Foley doesn’t know when to tune it down. Tietam Brown continuously spasms into episodes of cartoonish, sickening violence: we understand that it’s a legacy Andy wants to disclaim, but the point is made repeatedly, and a fairly absurd climactic father-son confrontation imitates the patented method of John Irving, with virtually none of the latter’s narrative drive and sheer reader-friendliness.
A body slam of a book that’s nowhere near as powerful and decisive as it means to be.