“The Reunion at Herb’s Café” by Dan Jenkins, Texas Christian University Press, 2019, 128 pages, $27.95
In the 1970s and early 1980s sportswriter Dan Jenkins wrote a pair of comedic novels: “Semi-Tough” and “Baja Oklahoma” centered on Fort Worth and Texas Christian University.
Both eventually became movies, “Semi-Tough” into a major feature starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson and Jill Clayburgh. Both novels were populated by a cast of weird and wildly unforgettable characters.
“The Reunion at Herb’s Café,” by Dan Jenkins, brings the band together one last time. The novel, Jenkin’s last, takes the characters from these novels to the present.
The whole gang is there: Billy Clyde Puckett, Marvin “Shake” Tiller, Barbara Jane Bookman, T. J. Lambert, Big Ed Bookman, Slick Henderson, Juanita Hutchins, Doris Steadman and more. Except for Herb Maklin, of the eponymous “Herb’s Café.” He dies before the book’s opening, leaving his widow Nyla, a café to run.
She leased it to a pair who turned it into a trendy bistro serving fig and sushi quiche, rabbit and okra soufflé, and tripe and onion taco. This goes over about as well as expected in working-class Fort Worth. The restaurateurs abruptly abandoned the place, opening a bed-and-breakfast in Nova Scotia.
Tommy Earl Bruner buys the place from Nyla, and reopens it with the old staff, restoring its previous name and menu. Bruner can afford it. His parents’ place, which he inherited, yielded oil money during the fracking boom. He then decides to host a reunion at Herb’s Café celebrating its reopening.
This serves as Jenkins’ excuse to bring readers up to date on the happenings of his characters since 1981 and get them together one more time. As might be expected, all have become successful, often in improbably, yet fun ways. (Shake Tiller has become a best-selling author living in rural Britain.) Except the incompetent crooks; they are still incompetent crooks. The reunion itself sets up an equally improbably, yet enormously fun ending.
It is a sappy book, delightfully so. The last book Jenkins finished before his death; it continues his tradition of irreverent, politically incorrect humor. “The Reunion at Herb’s Café” is a book by which Jenkins would enjoy being remembered.