Seven-year-old David Glum watches as his grandfather is abducted by a legendary herd of elephants. Twenty years later, David returns to his parents' home to focus on growing a beard, a goal he feels sure he can accomplish. Once the beard reaches a respectable girth, uncontrollable things begin happening around him. His mother dies. Maybe. His father might really be a man named Gary Wrench. David is sure of one thing: His family is cursed. It could have something to do with an eternal flame his grandfather stole from a possibly imaginary group of people called the Nefarions. David and Wrench begin a surreal cross-country journey that might have something to do with saving the world. Along the way they pass through a number of absurd towns, meet some disagreeable people, and discover an America that is radically different from the one they thought they knew. And all the while, the beard grows, gaining strength, leading them toward a distant island that most people think doesn't exist.