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Henry Gill, the hero of the title novella of Jack Pendarvis’ second short-story collection, is a 14-year-old Alabama boy who’s fit to burst from sexual frustration: He’s eager to be a good son and a good Christian, but Mom’s so poor she’s willing to sell him to another family, and visions of Laura Prepon and Demi Moore have a way of shimmying into his consciousness. The chief object of his affection, though, is Polly Finch, a woman who fell into a coma after rescuing a baby from an exploding meth lab. To most of America she’s just the latest folk hero of the 24-hour news cycle, but to Henry she’s a true saint, despite those nude photos of her on the Internet. (“Why didn’t his pants realize the reports were unconfirmed?”) Henry makes it his mission to travel to New York to revive her by “making out with her until she woke up, or whatever it was he was supposed to do, but that was probably it.” In the process, he hitches a ride with Brother Lampey, a tetched-in-the-head minister traveling with large cardboard tablets that bear a bastardized version of the Ten Commandments (i.e., thou shalt have no other dogs). This is prime fodder for cheap laughs at the expense of horny teens and baffling, backward Southerners—a rewrite of As I Lay Dying from the people who brought you Porky’s. Yet Pendarvis has impeccable control over his characters’ nuances, and his jokes never become easy or cynical, even while he’s poking fun at a tweedy professor’s pretentiousness or Brother Lampey’s sanctimony. Indeed, there’s a sweetness to Henry’s climactic revelation that belies the absurdity of its setting, which involves a lesbian bar, a goat, and a miserably awful improv-comedy troupe. Henry’s tale is a familiar coming-of-age story, yet his trials feel new, convincing, and provocatively strange, like the Stations of the Cross painted in Day-Glo colors. The remaining handful of brief stories in Your Body Is Changing features simpler comedic riffs: “Final Remarks” parodies political candidates’ dinner oratory, while “Courageous Blast” is a faux oral history that cracks wise about a marketing department that failed to sell America on a new chewing gum. (“I guess America’s not ready for something that’s going to eat their precious stomach lining.”) Pendarvis’ best-drawn characters, though, are people for whom the world is moving about 10 miles an hour too fast: the inept newspaper publisher who fancies himself a detective, a tollbooth worker who gets roped into becoming a drug mule. Imagining people like these, and finding reasons to poke fun at them, is relatively simple. Finding the strangeness in their lives while allowing them some dignity is harder, worthier work. Pendarvis has the nerve to do it.