May 24, 2007


You Suck: A Love Story. By Christopher Moore. Morrow. $21.95.

A Dirty Job. By Christopher Moore. Harper. $13.95.

      Christopher Moore is an amazing writer, whose impossible characters seem real and whose impossible situations seem as if maybe they are real, too. But…

      Moore is laugh-out-loud funny – it’s almost impossible to get through one of his books without breaking into hysterics at least once – and yet he manages to consider serious and meaningful subjects. But…

      He has a style that combines elements of others’ sensibilities yet is like no one else’s, and includes the ability to invent some new and very creative curse words, which is no mean feat. But…

      There has never before been reason to include a “but” in writing about Moore. He is more of an “and” – funny and deep and clever and stylish and one of the few modern authors worth multiple rereadings and superb at characterization and unafraid to follow absurd ideas to their unnatural conclusions…and so on.

      But with his two latest books, Moore has become a bit, well, unmoored. He is creating a mythology. It works, but it doesn’t feel quite Moore-ish – even though the style, characterization, etc. are all there.

      Here’s the thing: In A Dirty Job (originally published last year and now available in a handsome paperback edition with a delightful glow-in-the-dark cover whose illustration, for better or worse, reveals an important plot point) and You Suck (published this year in hardcover), Moore revisits characters he has used before, causes some of their lives to intersect with the lives of newly created characters, and turns San Francisco, where both books are set and which is already a mighty strange city, into a metropolis of the absurd, the dark and the utterly inhumane. Well, and the humane, too.

      Moore writes so well that he could make a shopping list interesting. A sample list for these books might include batteries to power strong UV lights to burn the skin off vampires…a sword cane…frozen steaks and old answering machines to feed hellhounds…a titanium codpiece…you get the idea. When not writing shopping lists, Moore is even more interesting. A sample from A Dirty Job: “Charlie hadn’t really counted on killing a guy that morning. He had hoped to get some twenties for the register from the thrift store, check his balance, and maybe pick up some yellow mustard at the deli.” Another, for metaphor fanciers: “A blanket of fog lay over the Bay and from Pacific Heights the great orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge jutted through the fog bank like carrots from the faces of sleeping conjoined twin snowmen.”

      This is great stuff. BUT…A Dirty Job, which involves human beings becoming sort of assistants to Death, is a touch derivative – Piers Anthony’s seven-book Incarnations of Immortality had a series of analogous plots, although treated at much greater length and with less madcap humor. And A Dirty Job involves cameo and more-than-cameo appearances by characters from Moore’s wonderful 1995 novel, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, including a comment by a police detective that makes sense only if you know the earlier book – and an appearance by Jody, the gorgeous vampire heroine of the earlier book, in a scene that is then repeated (from a different viewpoint) in You Suck, a young-vampires-in-love-and-trouble tale that is an out-and-out reader-requested sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, which remains Moore’s best book.

      Both of Moore’s latest novels are wonderfully written and often hilarious, but both have some disappointing flaws. In A Dirty Job, Moore makes much of his lead character, Charlie, being a “beta male,” not an alpha, so when Charlie concludes that he is destined to become the Luminatus – kind of the No. 1 Death – we know that’s not true and, because of the context, we know who will be revealed as the Luminatus. For Moore, that’s an uncharacteristic telegraphing of the plot – as uncharacteristic as some warmth that doesn’t fit the Moore style, such as a passage in which Charlie muses on the wonderful things done by hospice workers. As for You Suck, it has a singularly unsatisfying ending, leaving a variety of loose ends that will guarantee a sequel to what is already a sequel. Moore has never written that way before: every one of his books until these two has been entirely self-contained, each in its own wonderful way.

      Moore handles the books’ interrelationships with consummate skill, and his creation of a mythic San Francisco existing beside or in addition to the real one is quite wonderful. For example, the goth chick who works at a second-hand store in A Dirty Job has a best friend who is a major character in You Suck. But these are the first Moore books in which you will miss out on some things if you haven’t read other Moore novels. For example, the Emperor of San Francisco appears in both books – but makes much less sense as a character if you haven’t met him in Bloodsucking Fiends. And nearly all the characters in You Suck require you to have read the earlier book to understand what is going on.

      Make no mistake, though: these books are a delight to read. Moore mixes the sensibilities and pacing of François Rabelais, Jonathan Swift and the late Kurt Vonnegut, and his characters are deeply flawed in a thoroughly endearing way. But now that he is enlarging his canvas, interrelating novels and settings, he is doing something different from what he has done before, and there is a certain frantic, possessed craziness that is missing from Moore’s newest novels. They are a bit more studied than his earlier books, a little more carefully wrought. Perhaps that is simply a sign of maturity. But those who love Moore for his let-it-all-hang out immaturity should watch for his next work with a slightly wary eye.

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