There's little about the premise of Ovenman to endear itself to discerning readers: It's about a punk rock pizza chef in a shitty Florida town in the early '90s, and... that's it. He steals from his job, has bad tattoos up and down his arms, sings for a horrible punk band, and blacks out from drinking every night. Since alterna-lit is the new chick-lit (easy to crank out, easy to market), one might be forgiven for overlooking Jeff Parker's debut novel. That would be a serious shame, though, as Ovenman is one of the most raucous and fun books I've read in ages.
Protagonist When Thinfinger is the titular ovenman—a minimum wage worker at a skeezy pizza joint that he doesn't mind ripping off on a regular basis. He always smells like pizza, he fucks skanky chicks, he cheats the food stamp system, he does rails of coke and knocks them back with stolen beer, and he hangs with skinheads. You know the type. But he's also an incredible character in the hands of Jeff Parker: Ovenman is a character study in the truest and best sense, and Parker sidesteps every cliché afforded to him in creating his skateboarding antihero.
It also helps that Parker is hysterical most of the time, and that his sentences crackle with joyous intensity. After When and his coworker accidentally coat every pizza pan at the restaurant with industrial oven cleaner instead of spray grease, they're convinced that, in order to avoid criminal manslaughter charges, they too must imbibe the poisoned pizza to elude suspicion.
"We both get instant stomachaches, but that's not reliable because of the anxiety, and the dope, and the beers, and the fact that we eat so much of this shit it always gives us stomachaches. With this kind of business pouring in there's no way I can take down the pizzas without admitting to something, and damn if I'm doing that. People do time for that.'"
Like a slightly grown-up version of Michelle Tea's Rose of No Man's Land, Ovenman is an frenetic blast of pleasure: a depiction of America at its skankiest, populated with unlikely heroes and told with a reckless glee that commands serious attention.