Who is Jack Pendarvis? A short-story writer with two collections to his credit. A contributor to The New York Times, the Oxford American, and the Believer. And now he's the John and Renee Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. But a latter-day Rabelais is more like it, because if 16th-century France had Gargantua, 21st-century America has Awesome. He's the title character in Pendarvis' delirious debut novel, Awesome (MacAdam/Cage), and, at something like three stories tall, Awesome's a real giant of a man — literally.
He can stride across the United States in little or no time. He can swallow whole jars of pig's feet and follow that with a washtub of vermouth. He can fart up a storm and hibernate inside his own cocoon. He can make you a robot programmed with the works of David Hume or Emanuel Swedenborg. And he can design you a car that runs on his sizable ejaculate. But he has trouble finding a needle in a haystack.
That's the first item on the scavenger hunt devised by his onetime downstairs neighbor, a woman named Glorious Jones, who agrees to become Mrs. Awesome after getting a good look at the big guy's big "member." But the wedding's a bust, because, per Awesome's request, Glorious won't pleasure herself on camelback for the benefit of the wedding guests. So Glorious takes off. And here's the deal for her towering hubby:
Glorious will return to Awesome on one condition — make that six conditions, all of them feats of the impossible. It's the first of those feats that gets Awesome going on the trail of that needle in a haystack, which introduces a series of epistemological questions. Awesome can describe them for you. But let's cut to the chase, a chase that lands Awesome in California and in the company of some hippies stoned on mushrooms and some scientists out to rid the world of the irrational. But leave it to enterprising Awesome: Said needle in haystack indeed is found but not in the form you'd think and not before two security guards lose their heads and our not so gentle giant loses his "wiener" (the surgical instrument: a handy tin roof).
Are you following this? It doesn't matter, because Awesome's immediately off on his next challenge, which is to find the bones of Hernando de Soto. (And he does find them, sort of, on the atomic level.) Then it's off to unlock the "meaning of life." Then to find the "lost chord." Then a world search for a four-leaf clover. And finally a quest that requires that Awesome end the world so that he and Glorious can repopulate it with clones. But at least it means happily-ever-after for Glorious and Awesome — especially Awesome: He's reintroduced to his long-lost penis.
Readers by this point are apt to be just as lost, and maybe it's a matter of size — Awesome's pint size: just under 200 pages jam-packed to cover a hell of a lot of satirical ground, the more outrageous and mind-bending the better. Besides a smattering of high-end literary references (Wittgenstein and Borges), prepare in Awesome to be treated to life's lower end: multiple examples of buggery, flatulence, and, according to the findings documented in a well-received article entitled "Harnessing the Psychic Power of the Orgasm through Non-Tactile Pineal Massage" (published in Labia: The Johns Hopkins Journal of Sexiness), miracle-working you-know-what.
But wait, there's more: covert CIA operations, ocean adventures with some horny whales, meetings with the PR wing of the American Pumpkin Growers Association, a back massage using a street sweeper and a dump truck full of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, the vengeance of a heartbroken robot named Jimmy ... plus a couple of illustrations supplied by Michael Mitchell (the director of the next Shrek movie) and an opening quote from Céline Dion, which, minus the gross-out humor, matches Awesome in absurdity.