the pathetic caverns - books by author - Christopher Moore
eclectic reviews and opinions
Island of the Sequined Love Nun
The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
Every now and then, I still bump into an author who I'm amazed I've managed to miss. Christopher Moore is the latest; after stumbling on Practical Demonkeeping, I was compelled to tear through the other four of his novels in short order. Moore draws book-jacket comparisons to the likes of Douglas Adams and Carl Hiaasen, and for once that strikes me as not too far off the mark: substitute the overriding ecological concerns of Hiaasen with a dose of Adam's taste for outlandish supernatural and/or science-fictional hijinks and you're in the right ballpark. The ecological concerns are the thematic heart of Hiaasen; Moore gets what little weight these books have from exploring the redemption and maturation of his somewhat hapless protagonists. In two of the best novels, drunk pilot Tucker Case literally has to sober up and fly right (Island of the Sequined Love Nun) and perpetually-stoned Sheriff Theophilus Crowe has to hack up his weed garden (The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove) in order to defend his town from the ravages of a sea monster. Note that you will need to be able to read phrases like "defend his town from the ravages of a sea monster" in order to enjoy these books, and note that the presence of lurking chunks of seriousness somewhere underneath the narrative doesn't mean that these books aren't funny — frequently, laugh-out-loud funny. Moore's prose is slick, easy-to-swallow, enlivened by the occasional zany metaphor, and his dialog is requisitely snappy. I like him a little better when the body count of innocents doesn't get too high — you wouldn't want to accuse these books of slavishly following the navigational dictates of moral compasses — but they're consistently fun regardless.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
As Moore acknowledges in his afterword (which, incidentally, offers some of the book's funniest moments), he feared from the outset that those who might recognize Lamb's biblical quotations would have decided not to read the book. But although the book is blasphemous by almost any definition, it's not heretical: it fundamentally assumes that Jesus of Nazareth was divine.
It's set almost entirely in the gap in the canonical text between Jesus's birth and his emergence as the Messiah. The appeal of this is fairly obvious — there's no canonical discussion of how Jesus evolved his teachings from those of the Old Testament. And since there's precious little in the way of historical documentation, it's easy to defend along "Well, it could have happened that way!" lines.
The novel has two basic conceits: first, it postulates that the Christ had a companion (Levi, who is known as Biff) who more or less served as an externalized id for Jesus. He embodies the aspects of humanity not appropriate to the Messiah. In the book's baldest passage, he says as much to the young Mary Magdalene:
"But aren't you touched by who he is? What he is?"
"What good would that do me? If I was basking in the light of his holiness all of the time, how I would take care of him? Who would do all of his lying and cheating for him? Even Josh can't think about what he is all of the time, Maggie."
Mercifully, Biff is rarely allowed such self-awareness; he spends most of his time trying to get laid.
Lamb's second conceit is even more audacious: it suggests that the young Christ, searching for the three wise men who attended his birth, was exposed to Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Hindu teachings, and was able to incorporate elements of them in founding his ministry.
The tale of Jesus' adolescence is also wrapped in a present-day framing story. This provides the justification for Biff's use of modern vernacular; other than that it doesn't add much. (I have a suspicion that the very first South Park cartoon, the one with the memorable line, "Dude! Don't say 'pigfucker' in front of Jesus!," was an unacknowledged influence on the genesis of this book.)
Moore has been tangling with more serious themes as his career as a novelist evolves, but this is a quantum leap forward, and not an entirely successful one — his ambition outpaces his ability.
Part of the problem is that his understanding of the Eastern beliefs that Jesus explores just isn't very deep. I was reminded unpleasantly of how Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance force-fed the reader a premasticated paste of the history of philosophical thought. (This is only partially excused by the narrative device that Biff is too thick to follow the teachings.) Moore also has a tendency to fall back on long chunks of wisecracking dialogue, which worked much better in his earlier books. I don't think it's the anachronisms that make it stumble — the patter is frequently trite. The novelty of having tired lines spoken by Jesus and his buddy fails to elevate the material as the book lumbers on.
Biff's narrative voice also becomes increasingly wearing. It's one thing — natural and naturalistic, if not admirable — for him to prattle about wanting to screw anything female when he's fourteen; by the time he and Jesus are thirty, it just emphasizes the degree to which Biff is a narrative device more than a character. (His use of the word "slut" grows particularly tiresome.) Moore also succumbs to a personal pet peeve of mine in historical fiction: having characters "invent" anachronisms, cappuccino and the pencil being perhaps the most egregious in this case.
Despite Lamb's flaws, it is frequently funny, intermittently thought-provoking, and approaches poignance a few times. Admirably, it also steers almost completely clear of the territory explored by Monty Python's Life of Brian. I also give Moore a lot of credit for attempting a heftier novel, not to mention one liable to land him in hot water with fundamentalists.
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