God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer

Joseph Earl Thomas

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Book cover for God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer
Book cover for God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer

God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer

God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer

Joseph Earl Thomas

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A stirring, unsparing debut novel about black life in Philadelphia and the struggle to build intimate connections through the eyes of a struggling ex-Army grad student, from the "extraordinary [and] insightful" author of Sink (New York Times Book Review).

After a deployment in the Iraq War dually defined by threat and interminable mundanity, Joseph Thomas is fighting to find his footing. Now a doctoral student at The University, and an EMS worker at the hospital in North Philly, he encounters round the clock friends and family from his past life and would-be future at his job, including contemporaries of his estranged father, a man he knows little about, serving time at Holmesburg prison for the statutory rape of his then-teenage mother. Meanwhile, he and his best friend Ray, a fellow vet, are alternatingly bonding over and struggling with their shared experience and return to civilian life, locked in their own rhythms of lust, heartbreak, and responsibility.

Balancing the joys and frustrations of single fatherhood, his studies, and ceaseless shifts at the hospital as he becomes closer than he ever imagined to his father, Joseph tries to articulate vernacular understandings of the sociopolitical struggles he recounts as participant-observer at home, against the assumptions of his friends and colleagues. GOD BLESS YOU, OTIS SPUNKMEYER is a powerful examination of every day black life--of health and sex, race and punishment, and the gaps between our desires and our politics.

About the Author

Joseph Earl Thomas is a writer from Frankford whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in VQR, N+1, Gulf Coast, The Offing, and The Kenyon Review. He has an MFA in prose from The University of Notre Dame and is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania. An excerpt of his memoir, Sink, won the 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize and he has received fellowships from Fulbright, VONA, Tin House, and Bread Loaf. He's writing the novel God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer, and a collection of stories, Leviathan Beach, among other oddities.

Critical Reviews

"I have never read something so fucking funny and so fucking weird and so fucking full--full of life full of language full of traumas full of niggas. Fam, Joseph has something here that is so bursting of everything you want in a book that reading it will burst you open too. He is a virtuoso. I hate this nigga."--Damon Young, author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays

"Joseph's travails, told in a forceful stream of consciousness, expose the daily rhythms, obstacles and joys of one man's life."--Washington Post

"This is an astonishingly accomplished novel, often funny, often tragic...Just stunning." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review


"Thomas really does accomplish the extraordinary...[He] has constructed a sort of alchemy on the page, but one born of experience, from skill and from a trust about what will end up on the other side...perhaps one of the biggest boons of Sink is its insistence that care is, above all, shared. It is everyone's prerogative. In this way, Thomas has earned a deep bow."--New York Times Book Review

"For the reader, third-person narration creates a buffer to a brutal coming of age, and perhaps allows Thomas enough distance from his trauma to bravely expose the vulnerability and resilience of his youth."--Washington Post

"Thomas is a skilled prose stylist, and Sink is loaded with arresting imagery and insights into the eerie space between claustrophobia and freedom unique to childhood."--Vulture

"Joseph Earl Thomas has created a narrative that reads like a request and loving demand. Sink is a new kind of memoir, remixing the best parts of the genre. Though cohesive, the chapters in Sink are brilliant and brilliantly different. Thomas uses the act and politics of oration to move us within the silences of desire. It's the way Thomas narrativizes encounters that make this book different than any memoir I've read, but also, so more propellant than any memoir in recent years. It is criminal and absolutely delicious that Sink is a literary debut. It is stunning in its audacious goodness." --Kiese Laymon, award-winning author of Heavy

"Sink is a singular memoir; all blood and nerve and near-unbearable beauty. A brilliant and fucking fearless debut."--Carmen Maria Machado, award-winning author of In the Dream House

"Joseph Earl Thomas's Sink is a powerful, moving, and artful testament to the sustaining powers of the imagination. This compelling coming-of-age memoir is often brutal but also loving; it's at turns critical, empathic, funny; it's searching and revelatory the whole way through. Joey is a narrator for the ages, a boy whose unforgettable story dares expanding the possibilities of Black male identity."--Mitchell S. Jackson, award-winning author of Survival Math

"Ribald, seething, lyrical, generous, heartbroken, and brilliant -- God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer is a staggering literary achievement, one of those rare books that breaks and remakes the very idea of the novel. With unflinching courage, luminous spirit, and a virtuosic flow, Joseph Earl Thomas has written a Joycean Ulysses inside a Philly E.R., bodying forth the voice of a true American original." --Roy Scranton, author of War Porn and Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

"God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer is Joseph Earl Thomas' formidable, groundbreaking debut. There's so much magic in the rare combination of tenderness, humor, and heartbreak contained in this story. Our narrator, Joseph, is unlike any character I've read, just as Thomas' debut has no equal."--Cleyvis Natera, author of Neruda on the Park

"In this complex novel, a young man lives on two timelines. In one he's working a very long hospital shift, increasingly dizzy with hunger. In one he relives his history, 'a version of the truth wrapped in a longer lie, ' working through love and lust, memory and regret. You might call it present time and past time, or body time and head time. While God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer is about all the traps of black reality (poverty, fear, war, sickness, death) it's also always about language, writing and speech, play and voluminous possibility. Joseph Earl Thomas's writing is contemplative, hilarious, disorienting, tragic, and thoroughly daring, full of life and style."

--Elisa Gabbert, author of Any Person Is the Only Self

"Joseph Earl Thomas's God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer is a brilliant novel of hunger and work and care and grief that deftly captures the maddening mess of everything that makes life worth living. Thomas is a skilled, surgical prose stylist; his sentences are magnificent scalpels. There isn't a single dull line in the book. God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer is unpredictable, unsentimental, and impressively tender."
--Isle McElroy, author of People Collide

"[M]agnificent...In a remarkable feat of formal invention, Thomas collapses time and space, melding Joey's memories with descriptions of patients in the ER...Thomas scales great heights with this innovative blend of social realism and surrealism."--Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"What's thrilling to me about God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer is the faith Joseph Earl Thomas places in his readers. There's a supersaturation here that reminds me of Denis Johnson's vertiginous moral questing, and a topography of mind and place that kept making me think of Teju Cole's poet-doctor of the modern metropolis. Thomas gives us a fully peopled world, not by speaking in grand oracular exposition, but by getting granular--we see the Reebok slides on a romantic rival, the crinkled cookie wrappers out of which grow a friendship. It's such a deftly choreographed dance--intoxicating, propulsive--and the result is utterly mesmerizing: here is a whole cosmos, as vivid and unprecedented as our own." --Kaveh Akbar, author of Martyr!

"Joseph Earl Thomas is a writer of incredible gifts. The voice here is so distinctive, galloping with intelligence, poetry, honesty, and humor. Bless You Otis Spunkmeyer spun me around, like many of my favorite novels, it reads like direct communication from the soul."--Justin Torres, author of Blackouts

Publishing Information

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pub date: 2024-06-18
Length: 240 pages

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