" 'Never fear Darina, I'm Coffee College certified,' he told the suspicious Czech who was managing the cash register... [Shirting] went to work. His hands flew- he became the Hindu god Ganesh behind the bar - six arms exacting the assemblage of each drink variation, coaxing the espresso from the machine with firmness and love; with the reverence of an immunologist extracting venom from a snake. Lucky Latte'anos, Capone'cinos of all stripe....It was a sight to behold and Shirting was rewarded with a round of applause by the satisfied crowd. But the attention only provoked more orders. Word was spreading on the street. Shirting, with flashing fingers, took them all on... For just a few moments, genius had been attained at that post."
In M. Henderson Ellis' Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café (New Europe Books, 2013), John Shirting is a company man the likes of which Capo Coffee has never seen. Shirting takes inordinate pride in pulling a perfect cup of espresso. He's unfailingly loyal to his brand. He holds an evangelical vision for global corporate expansion. Unfortunately, Shirting's strident and particular ways make him unpopular among coworkers and supervisors, and as a result, he has also been fired. But dismissal doesn't stop Shirting from dreaming about being the one to bring Capo Coffee to the rest of the world.
Shirting is a likably rigid personality who is blissfully ignorant to the fact that he is often an annoyance to others. Following his sacking, Shirting travels to the newly capitalizing city of Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he embarks on a series of misadventures and encounters colorful characters of all kinds. Whereas he was a pariah in America, he finds his own peculiar niche in this endlessly unpredictable city where the rules are still being determined. Shirting encounters a skinhead walking a pig, befriends a prostitute (but spends their time together playing Frogger on her old Atari), confronts his high school nemesis, takes a job serving drinks in an impromptu bar (and of course promptly loses his beverage-making privileges), absconds with a adult film crew's cash and wanders through the Czech countryside. Shirting also fights a debilitating nervous condition, at first popping pills to keep his flooding emotions in check, and later carrying a small live turtle in his shirt pocket as a companion-like substitute for pharmaceutical comfort.
Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café is a novel for readers who enjoy smart writing, wry humor, fresh settings, and above all, eccentric characters, for we meet dozens of them. At times they seem too many to keep track of, but from Shirting's remarkable encounter with the philosophical skinhead to the novel's funny and surprisingly touching conclusion, Ellis weaves their stories together with an impressive balance of comedy and poignance.
May I suggest Steve Carell or Jim Carrey in the starring role of the film version?
My thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy of Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café.