Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

Reading this book is like eating a big rich chocolate cake – that’s attached to the mains supply. It’s tasty and wonderful but you keep getting majorly unpleasant electric shocks that ruin the whole experience.  Charlie Asher is a beta male, unassuming, snarky, wildly amusing second hand shop owner in San Francisco. Burdened with an over-active imagination he fumbles merrily through life in an erratic, silly and endearing fashion.

And he collects souls. He finds souls from the recently deceased imbued in objects and passes them on to new people to learn and grow. And if he doesn’t then the forces of the underworld will rise up and unleash horror on the world.

Or he can drop illegal fireworks on them, or fight them with his ultra-nerdy sword-cane, whatever works :)

And if push comes to shove, you’d be amazed what his daughter can do.

But something isn’t going right, something’s screwing up – and for once it isn’t Charlie Asher – and the underworld is raising its ugly head above ground

I’ve seen books that put mundane people in fantastic abilities and situations, but rarely ones that do it as well as this. The main character feels very real, even though everyone is rather cartoonishly over-done (despite this, there is a strong sense of realism even when the characters are all rather overdone). His constant bemusement and great great silliness comes off as cute, endearing and immensely amusing to me. I can believe Charlie, even when he’s throwing fire works down the drain, threatening people with his stick or rambling away with his ridiculously silly internal monologues.

In some ways it does have a cartoonish feel, in the sense that “yes this isn’t realistic, but it’s not that meant to be, roll with it and giggle”. It manages to make all the exaggeration seem not overdone or break the sense of disbelief.

And the story is good. The story is compelling and draws you in pretty early. It’s intriguing and is revealed at a decent pace, never so slow that you grow tired of it, and never so fast that you find yourself overwhelmed with unnecessary information. It’s mysterious and original and odd enough to keep you reading just to see what’s going to happen next and where the story’s going (as well as to see what antics the characters get up to).

It’s not exactly enthralling stay-up-until-the-sun-rises-because-I-can’t-put-it-down or close, but it’s still immense fun. It never stopped being interesting and enjoyable. 

The characters never stop being people you interested in. You do care about them, you do want to see what happens to them, and you do want to see what antics they get up to. And, above all, it’s screamingly, hilariously funny.

It also has some surprisingly poignant moments of grief and sadness that are beautifully well written, especially mourning. I have to give kudos to the rather extremely wonderful way this book presents death and grieving – but I have to say I’m more than a little uncomfortable that perfectly typical, cleansing, healthy, non-medically dangerous grief is constantly medicated. People can mourn without pills – I can’t imagine time-release morphine as a standard part of the grieving process for all people. I don’t think grief over your parents dying is really something that needs medicating unless it is extreme or prolonged – we’re meant to be sad when a loved one passes. It’s not something that needs to go away.  

Unfortunately, what it did become was sporky as hell. I have dropped my kindle and recoiled from some of the things in this book. Because to progressive eyes, this book knows how to spork. Racism, homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia, it abounds.

We have women referred to as “fuck puppets”

We have a woman whose soul attaches itself to her breast implants

We have gay men whose souls constantly imbue to their music – and the music store is festooned with Cher. And I’m not even going to touch the whole “gay men loving beta males” fabulousness comment, no I am not. Oh and a straight man passing as gay to sell music to them from his Liza Minelli festooned shop.

Mrs. Ling is an elderly Chinese woman. When Charlie’s many many many many many many pets die she cooks and eats them. Some she tries to kill, some of them to cook them or sell for Chinese medicine. There are several Chinese bit characters in the books – you can tell by the way they refer to “white devils” (and sell illegal fireworks. And run laundries. Good gods man, if I come across coolie hats and rickshaws I may break my kindle, don’t make me do that)

Minty Fresh (yes I am serious) is a black man. We know this because whenever he comes near to appearing in a scene we are reminded of his race, repeatedly. And white man Charlie keeps talking 'black' to him *cringe*

I do like his sister who is a lesbian because she snarks. And she steals his suits, but if my brother were my side and had a wardrobe full of Armani? Totally would. But the author seems worried you may forget she’s a lesbian. So everywhere she goes, every time she appears, every conversation she has will mention lesbian somewhere. It’s a rule. Just as sharks need to keep moving in order to breathe, this woman has to keep chanting “lesbian” in order to exist. Which pretty much encompasses the entirety of her character.

And his extra-creepy employee checks out “” (please for the love of all that is holy don’t let that be a real web address. And yes poverty stricken women selling themselves for money is so funny) and finds a woman who may have facial hair and an adam’s apple – cue oh-so-hilarious reaction.

In light of this, his remarking on how “beta males” are pitiable and unattractive (oddly while making the protagonist beta male cute and endearing) seems quite minor

I think it’s indicative of the number of –ism fails in this book that I just can’t remember them all – and even trying to list them all would turn this review into one long extreme rant.

And y'know what's really annoying about all these fails?

They're so very unnecessary and BENEATH this author. Christopher Moore is, as can be easily read, a great writer. He's funny – hysterically funny. He doesn't have to resort to this -ism laden claptrap for cheap laughs. He's better than that. He writes great, compelling characters – he doesn't have to resort to cheap stereotypes.

It’s so extreme I wonder about the author’s motivations – is this an attempt at the oh-so-wonderful hipster fashionable isms? Is it an attempt at satirising the omnipresent tropes that we all know and are sporked by? Dousing them in hyperbole so we can see just how awful they are? Does he consider it a necessary part of his otherwise delightful over-done world setting? I don’t know, I really don’t.

And that basically sums up the book – it's a delicious, rich, tasty cake – with rusty nails lurking under the icing. It's lovely – but there are spiky bits in there that are going to really hurt you

Or it's a great lovely cake covered in shit. Tasty cake is there, but you're not going to get that taste of shit out of your mouth.

Will I read more books by the same author? Probably – he writes an extremely good and entertaining story. But I will do so warily and likely with a great deal of dropping my kindle and stalking away in disgust and I expect to be on the knife-edge between enjoying the book and killing it with fire. Which is a crying shame – because it could have been so much more.

As for rating, I would honestly give this book a 4.5 or maybe even a 5 for being so damn funny if nothing else. But the constant, recurring isms means it's impossible to rate it that highly in good conscience