Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Trad Book Review: A Dirty Job

I'd like to link to one of The Oatmeal comics to start this review of A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.  Warning, it contains adult language.  (So does A Dirty Job. In fact, if you find the comic too offensive, just cross A Dirty Job off of your reading list.)  Just scroll down to the part where it says How British Accents Sound to Americans.

Back?  Great.  Does that seem like a random link?  Let me explain: Christopher Moore has a writing style I'd call Terry Pratchettesque:  third person omni POV, somewhat random bits of character and background information, genuinely funny situations, a complicated plot that gets all tied up in a nice bow in the end, with a slightly flat finish.  But here's the thing: Terry is British. Chris is an American.

So, A Dirty Job is a lot rougher than anything Pratchett writes.  If Pratchett writes PG work, Moore writes R. Adult language, casual racism and sexism, sexual themes: all of that's in A Dirty Job.

So, you're all warned; no matter how the cover looks, this is not a cute little book.
But it is funny and witty, at times deeply tender and respectful and at times frustratingly coarse.

Here's how reading it went for me: I'd be happily cruising along, deeply enjoying the story, and then the main character would suddenly lay down this out-of-the-blue bomb of racial insensitivity, that frankly felt way out of character.  

While I'm not a fan of racism as a character trait, if its been well written, if the writer has done his work properly and it fully integrated into the character, it doesn't bother me.  There's an Asian character in the book who isn't a huge fan of white people.  She's that way through the entire book.  Her calling the anglos 'white devils' and considering them all insane was in character.  Charlie, the main character, however acts like the average upper-middle class liberal white guy.  Until he suddenly develops what appears to be some sort of racial Tourettes syndrome and begins spouting cringe worthy things.

I fear I'm making this sound worse that it is.  It's not that the things he says are particularly hateful.  They're just horrendously socially awkward and inappropriate.  Maybe that's the point, Charlie isn't the smoothest of operators, but still, it sounded way off to me.

That aside, I really enjoyed the book.  If less than a page and a half of bits of dialog were edited out, this would have been a four star story for me.

The plot: a story of a 'beta male' who is suddenly widowed and left not only with a brand new baby daughter but a new destiny as a collector of souls, was tight, clever, and unique.  Charlie (once again, minus that page of dialog) is a genuinely likeable character.  Moore's treatment of death, dying, and especially hospice workers, is gentle and respectful.  His side plot of all the old Gods of death converging on San Fransisco as Capital D Death rises was well done. 

I just really wish he had restrained himself a bit on the racial commentary.

So, if you've got a thicker skin than I do, or if you want a snappy and fun look death and rebirth and don't mind some coarseness, then have at it.  You'll probably enjoy A Dirty Job.   Otherwise, give it a wide berth, and get some Terry Pratchett.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review, Keryl. Thanks. I'd been taking a look at this and now I think I'll give it a pass, but I'm sure there are people out there who will consider it just the thing.