Wednesday, June 4, 2014

But Somebody's Gotta Do It

A Dirty Job
by Christopher Moore
Published by William Morrow & Company
4 Out of 5 Stars

After the birth of his daughter, Charlie Asher, mild-mannered Beta Male, finds his life upended--and not just because he's become a new father. Through a strange course of events, he finds that he has been selected to be a Death Merchant, harvesting the souls of the dead and helping them on their journey to transcendence. The job, unfortunately, comes with a shit-ton of problems, such as being suspected of murder; hellhounds unexpectedly manifesting in his home; sewer harpies taunting him at every turn; encounters with an army of small, nattily dressed chimera; the perpetual threat of the Forces of Darkness rising if he fails; and the disconcerting knowledge that his daughter can kill by simply pointing and uttering that most powerful and fear inducing of words: "kitty." Plus, "Hi, I'm Death. With the big 'D'" doesn't really work as a pick-up line with the ladies. He's got ninety-nine problems, but a bitch ain't one.

His guide to his new lifestyle is The Great Big Book of Death, which really isn't that big. Or informative. Really it's just a lot of cartoonish pictures with such helpful tips as "In order to hold off the Forces of Darkness, you will need a number two pencil and a calendar." Death shops at Staples. Sucks to be Charlie.

There are a lot of words that I could throw around about Moore's writing: zany, wacky, demented, hilarious. But let's go ahead and toss "poignant" on the list. Trust me, everything you expect from a Moore novel is here, but one of the things I admire about his stories is that, for all the strangeness getting stranger, there's a well-spring of compassion and respect for humanity in his work that can surface when you least expect it. It should be no surprise that people die in a book about death, but what may catch many off guard is the genuine respect Moore demonstrates for the passing of a human life and a keen understanding that "Most of us don't live our lives with one, integrated self that meets the world, we're a whole bunch of selves. When someone dies, they all integrate into the soul--the essence of who we are, beyond the different faces we wear throughout our lives." Moments like this are what elevate Moore's work above pure screwball comedic writing. He has a keen understanding that life is absurdity and that humor is the best coping mechanism we have.

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