Monday, December 3, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #10

Welcome to December.
Time for a seasonal book review, with the focus: funny or not?

THE STUPIDEST ANGEL: A HEARTWARMING TALE OF CHRISTMAS TERROR
BY CHRISTOPHER MOORE
PARANORMAL

Premise
An angel’s efforts to carry out an assigned miracle go wrong.

What Works
The action takes place in a small, isolated, not particularly wealthy town of the kind where everyone thinks they know everyone else’s business, every character is ‘colorful’, tree- and animal life abound, and resourcefulness is second nature (fans of the Alaskan TV series ‘Northern Exposure’ will recognize the type). All of these factors are relevant to the comic manner in which the novel’s climax plays out.

The author writes each main character with memorable flaws which turn out to be strengths as circumstances change. The town sheriff secretly growing a crop of marijuana (for a good cause), the former martial arts actress who goes off her antipsychotic medication (also), the visiting pilot who impulsively helps conceal a freshly dead body (ditto), the lovesick biologist who comes up with noble uses for lasagna (more of the same) – Apprentice Writer cannot recall another comedic novel which takes such care and deceptively slow speed setting all necessary pieces in place before winding up for the frenetically paced big finish. At the end, the reader is out of breath from tension release.

Several animal characters play small but key roles. The one that leaves a lasting impression is giant Micronesian fruit bat Roberto, for his fashion sense, dramatic timing, and what may or may not be ability to speak. Bats typically only make appearances in vampire novels, and then usually as anonymous window dressing. To have one appear against type in an angel novel, and have lines and toss in a significant childhood memory for good measure, was inspired.

The bane of aspiring writers everywhere (or perhaps, only this one) is critics who hunger to slap down the faintest sign of so-called backstory dump at the beginning of the novel, based on the belief that reader willingness to continue with the story is increased if they know only the stingiest scraps about what happened to the characters before it began (or something like that; Apprentice Writer doesn’t claim to be impartial in this regard). In this case, the author has come up with a creative way to avoid infodumping at the start yet provide insight into earlier developments. He omits chapter 13, and instead provides descriptions of telling childhood snapshots from various characters’ family photo albums. This brings the narrative pace briefly to a halt, but illuminates the relevant characters’ typical adult behavior.


What Doesn’t
The author’s brand of humor is pronounced and consistent to the end; readers will immediately be either attracted or repelled. The good thing about this is that those who don’t appreciate it will know so in a matter of paragraphs, and thus need not waste their time.

The title makes clear that the content touches on religious themes, which include a celestial being, miracles, and nature of life after death. Readers with a finely-tuned sacred threshold will need to judge whether to venture in or leave the book untouched. Should it make a difference to such evaluation, readers can note that although at times expressed in unorthodox fashion, a number of characters’ conversation, thoughts and acts do reveal that they have faith.


Overall
The book is very much written from a man’s point of view. A fair amount of interaction is devoted to competition between male characters no matter what other pressing issues claim attention, and to what lengths men will go for even a slight chance of hooking up with someone. In one scene, three characters have a serious conversation while an unknown woman sits coincidentally between them and they stare at her chest, described as ‘sweatercakes’, ‘wooly mounds of intrigue’, ‘speakerphones’, and ‘waiting for an answer from the d├ęcolletage oracle’. In another, a group of women exercise at ‘Bulges’, and after witnessing part of a marital dispute that ends in altercation, decide as one that the husband is in the wrong and whip out their phones simultaneously to report him. In a third, a dumped man sees his ex at a party and rhetorically asks his friend to confirm that she looks good. The friend considers “…the heels, the stockings, the makeup, the hair, the lines of her suit, her nose, her hips - and felt like he was looking at a sports car that he could not afford, would not know how to drive, and he could only envision himself entangled in the wreckage of, wrapped around a telephone pole. ‘Her lipstick matches her shoes’, Theo said by way of not really answering his friend.”


But does it make you laugh? YES!
Christopher’s Moore’s sense of humor may be warped, but it is abundant and original. Who else would describe over-enthusiastic Christmas decoration as making “….the little chapel (resemble) the nest of a color-blind Ewok (where) guests would be in danger of being asphyxiated in a festive dungeon of holiday bondage”? The angel suffers from lack of authority with droll results, and parts of the final battle are hysterically funny. Make no mistake: “hysterical” is an adjective Apprentice Writer keeps under lock and key, and allows out only on very rare occasions. Here, it is justified. She will never again assume that Christmas carols are necessarily motivated by simple joy in the season.

4 comments:

Christine d'Abo said...

This sounds interesting. I usually try to pick up at least one Christmas book in December to read. I may give this one a shot.

M. said...

hi christine
if you do, let me know what you think! hope to see you on saturday

Wylie Kinson said...

Hi m!
I read a Christopher Moore last year (LAMB...) and really enjoyed his humor.
I want to say I'll pick this up, but my TBR pile is tipping over under its own weight, so this one will have to wait until next years holiday reading.
But thanks for the review and recommend -- this one sounds right up my alley. I'm so sick of all the PCness in today's writing. Give me something humorously offensive already ;P

M. said...

Hi Wylie
Know what you mean about the TBR pile *sigh*

I think I've heard of Lamb - that's the that sort of like Monty Python's "Life of Brian", right? From this first Moore book, I was certainly encouraged to pick up another.