cover image God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer

God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer

Joseph Earl Thomas. Grand Central, $28 (240) ISBN 978-1-5387-40989

The magnificent first novel from Thomas (Sink, a memoir) centers on an Iraq War veteran who works in a Philadelphia emergency room. Joey, who grew up in poverty, relies on student loans to pay child support for his two children. His other commitments include cigarette money for his mother, a new set of tires for his sister, and glasses for his kids, leaving his bank account overdrawn at the end of the month. Joey’s stream-of-consciousness narration moves from his daily routine in the ER through flashbacks to his relationship with his children’s mother, his largely uneventful time in the Army, and his childhood in a roach-infested apartment. In a remarkable feat of formal invention, Thomas collapses time and space, melding Joey’s memories with descriptions of patients in the ER (“This homeless dude Greg who everybody loves to lovehate is beaten to near death outside a gas station by teenagers who are not yet shot through their daddy’s deep blue Crown Vics with AK-47s at Sunoco on Broad and Lehigh”). Eventually, the ER floods with people from Joey’s life, including his Army buddy Ray, whom Joey hints was his former lover, and his father, whom he’d never met. Thomas scales great heights with this innovative blend of social realism and surrealism. (June)