Rating: 4* of five The Book Description: It's 2003 and the country is divided evenly for and against the Iraq War. Damascus, a dive bar in San Francisco's Mission District, becomes the unlikely setting for a showdown between the opposing sides.Tensions come to a boil when Owen, the bar's proprietor who has recently taken to wearing a Santa suit full-time, agrees to host the joint's first (and only) art show by Sylvia Suture, an ambitious young artist who longs to take her act to the dramatic precipice of the high-wire by nailing live fish to the walls as a political statement.An incredibly creative and fully rendered cast of characters orbit the bar. There's No Eyebrows, a cancer patient who has come to the Mission to die anonymously; Shambles, the patron saint of the hand job; Revv, a lead singer who acts too much like a lead singer; and Owen, donning his Santa costume to mask the most unfortunate birthmark imaginable.Damascus is the place where confusion and frustration run out of room to hide. By gracefully tackling such complicated topics as cancer, Iraq, and issues of self-esteem, Joshua Mohr has painted his most accomplished novel yet. My Review: Reasons I picked this novel up at the liberry:1)The author's hot.2)The cover image made me sniffle a little for San Francisco's Mission district...and those who've heard me holler about how much I dislike California will know what a tough sell that is.3)The author's hot.4)It's published by a company called “Two Dollar Radio,” which made me grin in recognition of the old phrase “loud/cheap/tinny as a two-dollar radio.”5)The author's hot.So I stand convicted as a shallow, (homo)sexist pig, who will adventure into any waters if lured there by a sufficiently attractive man. Guilty as charged, can I pay my fine in trade, please?But then comes the reading of the book so cavalierly shelf-picked.Joshua Mohr's the real deal, guys. He's up there with Bonnie Jo Campbell and Donald Ray Pollock in the modern landscape-noir masters. He needs a third name, I guess...maybe Joshua Duke Mohr, I dunno...but this San Francisco he's studying and reporting on resembles the Tales of the City city the way Disney resembles Tarantino.Every character in this gut-punch of a book is an ambulatory disaster area. Not one of them has a grasp of what this thing called “making a life” is about. They are not, however, unsympathetic. They're completely unable to get a handle on life, yes; but going on living, even if it's largely by rote or sheer stubborn inability to lie down despite being dead, has a bleak and painful dignity, and a respect-worthy demonstration of strength.It's a book of losers. It's like Cannery Row with bathroom hand-jobs and nauseating “art” installations. It's got more grit than a sandpaper factory, and yes, a lot of it's gonna get between your cheeks as the events of the book knock you flat on your ass. It is, as another reviewer said, the anti-Cheers and thank goodness for that. Unsentimental books about people who don't do sentimental are good reads. This book is a very very good read indeed. The last 30 pages will do you in.Ignore the spurious Beat/Bukowski comparisons. This isn't derivative. Joshua Mohr is the real deal.Did I mention he's hot?