Monday, May 14, 2007

2 Mini-Reviews of Christopher Moore Novels – “A Dirty Job” and “You Suck”

Last year, I first became aware of the writings of Christopher Moore. I read and reviewed his fascinating and entertaining work: "Lamb - The Gospel According to Biff."

I was pleased when Mr. Moore responded to my review, thanking me for my comments:

What a terrific review and post. Thanks so much. I think you'll like my new one, A Dirty Job, which comes out in a couple of weeks. While not quite as ambitious, theologically, as Lamb, I think it hits a similar funny bone in that it deals with a subject that people try to sanitize: Death.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful and fair comments.

Life is full of distractions and balancing priorities, so it took me much more than a few weeks to getting around to reading “A Dirty Job.” I enjoyed it so much that I immediately read Moore’s next work, “You Suck,” which is, in many regards, a sequel to “A Dirty Job.” Many of the same characters and San Francisco settings appear in both works. It helped my enjoyment of these two books that I read them after having recently spent almost a week in San Francisco, so I was able to visualize many of the neighborhoods where Moore set the action of the stories.

Christopher Moore’s writing style is distinctive, yet it contains elements that remind me of Tom Robbins and of Harlan Coben. Like Robbins, Moore uses outlandish characters and outré subject matter to entice his readers to consider deep philosophical issues. Like Coben, he is note perfect in picking up the regional and generational diction of his characters. All three authors couch their sensitive regard for human suffering under a layer of pseudo-cynical and deadpan humor. I would love to be a fly on the wall for the conversations that would ensue from an all-night drinking session made up of this unlikely trio of wordsmiths.

In “A Dirty Job,” the conceit is that Charlie Asher, a fairly normal owner of a thrift shop, is tapped to become an agent of death. Through the maze of bizarre action and even more bizarre characters, Moore leads us through a deep consideration of the emotions that surround the impending death of a loved one, and the cornucopia of feelings and actions that ensue. He pays tribute – albeit in a very non-traditional way – to those human angels who ease the passing of those facing death; he dedicates the book to hospice workers and volunteers.

To enjoy Moore’s writing, one cannot be squeamish or put off by the outrageous or the profane. He paints pictures of truth using sometimes garish colors, but the truth emerges. Here is a fairly lengthy example of his gripping and smirking prose:

“Sometimes Charlie’s walk took him through Japantown, where he passed the most enigmatic shop in the city, Invisible Shoe Repair. He really intended to stop in one day, but he was still coming to terms with giant ravens, adversaries from the Underworld, and being a Merchant of Death, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for invisible shoes, let alone invisible shoes that needed repair! He often tried to look past the Japanese characters into the shop window as he passed, but saw nothing, which of course, didn’t mean a thing. He just wasn’t ready. But there was a pet shop in Japantown (House of Pleasant Fish and Gerbil), where he had originally gone to buy Sophie’s [his young daughter] fish, and where he returned to replace the TV attorney’s [pet fish named after TV attorney’s] with six TV detectives, who also took the big Ambien a week later. Charlie had been distraught to find his baby daughter drooling away in front of a bowl floating more dead detectives than a film noir festival, and after flushing all six at once and having to use the plunger to dislodge Magnum and Mannix, he vowed the next time he would find more resilient pals for his little girl. He was coming out of House of PF&G one afternoon, with a Habitrail pod containing a pair of sturdy hamsters, when he ran into Lily [his young, Goth employee], who was making her way to a coffee house up on Van Ness, where she was planning to meet her friend Abby for some latte-fueled speed brooding.

‘Hey, Lily, how are you doing?’ Charlie was trying to appear matter-of-fact, but he found that the awkwardness between him and Lily over the past few months was not mitigated by her seeing him on the street carrying a plastic box full of rodents.

‘Nice gerbils,’ Lily said. She wore a Catholic schoolgirl’s plaid skirt over black tights and Doc Martens, with a tight black PVC bustier that was squishing little pale Lily-bits out of the top, like a can of biscuit dough that’s been smacked on the edge of the counter. The hair color du jour was fuchsia, over violet eye shadow, which matched her violet, elbow-length lace gloves. She looked up and down the street and, when she didn’t see anyone she knew, fell into step next to Charlie.

‘They’re not gerbils, they’re hamsters,’ Charlie said.

‘Asher, do you have something you’ve been keeping from me?’ She titled her head a little, but didn’t look at him when she asked, just kept her eyes forward, scanning the street for someone who might recognize her walking next to Charlie, thus forcing her to commit seppuku.

‘Jeez, Lily, these are for Sophie!’ Charlie said. ‘Her fish died, so I’m bringing her some new pets. Besides, that whole gerbil thing is an urban myth-‘

‘I meant that you’re Death,’ Lily said.” (Pages 105-106)

In much the same vein, if you will pardon the pun, Moore stays in the same seedy San Francisco neighborhoods for “You Suck,” an outrageous tale of two young vampires and their misadventures. In delving into the imagined world of the undead, Moore treats us to a lively examination of the things in life we take for granted and should treasure. If Christopher Moore’s writing is an acquired taste, then I have been bitten! Fair warning – no reading this novel after sunrise!



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