Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Practical Demonkeeping

        In case I haven’t mentioned it enough already: I’m an absurdist. This could mean that I say absurd things like *let’s build a giant wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for it*. This could mean that I do absurd things like sue a comedian for joking that I look like an orangutan. What it actually means is that I hold the following philosophical belief: it’s absurd to search for meaning because the world is inherently meaningless. In lieu of searching, I just accept that there isn’t any meaning to life and I move on and enjoy my brunch. It’s really less depressing than it sounds—especially if you find a solid brunch spot (shout out to Philip Marie). You can learn more about this philosophy by checking out my review on The Strangera novel by Albert Camus, the father of absurdism.

        So, you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Christopher Moore, an irreverent writer of absurdist fiction. I also simply couldn’t resist the irony of reading his seminal novel, Practical Demonkeeping, just a few days after the New Year when everyone else was frantically getting rid of their demons. Right from the get go, Moore makes it clear that he’s playing with traditional creation myths. He takes the dominant world religions, throws them in a mixing bowl, stirs them up, and adds some seasoning. But the final dish is less delicious than I’d hoped for. Let me explain…
        The world in Practical Demonkeeping has a different history than ours. The earth was once populated with the Dijinn—a genie-type people endowed with the power to create. God became jealous of the Dijinn because they created awesome things, so He banished them to Hell. Satan witnessed this process as an angel in heaven and subsequently asked God for the same creation-powers. Petulantly, God granted Satan’s wish but restricted him to Hell as well. To further piss Satan off, God created the human race and granted them free will—a move that taunted Satan since he clearly did not have control over his own destiny. In the book, there are two nether-worldly beings who are mistakenly inhabiting earth—Gian Hen Gian, a Dijinn and Catch, a havoc-wreaking demon. Gian Hen Gian solicits human help in an effort to send Catch back to Hell. By the end of the novel, a lot of humans have crossed paths in this effort and we learn about their complicated interrelationships. Each person is burdened by something (alcoholism, a murderous past, a lack of ambition, etc.) and they have a cross to bear through this demon-defeating mission.
       Christopher Moore belongs to the writer-realm of Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut- two of my favorite authors in the history of authorship. He takes a fantastical story with religious intonations and science-fiction twists and then grounds it in the realistic life of the everyman with everyday problems. The protagonist is unwittingly stuck in a supernatural circumstance and Moore uses the ridiculousness of the situation to mockingly highlight everything that’s wrong with our world. For instance, Catch discusses morality with his human keeper, Travis:
“‘What’s morality?’ [-Catch]
‘It’s the difference between what is right and what you can rationalize’ [-Travis]
‘Must be a human thing.’ [-Catch]” (Moore, 73).
Nothing is safe; everything is subject to ridicule. I like that. I don’t take life too seriously and I think established beliefs should continually be questioned. It’s nice when those questions also make me laugh.
        And Moore is funny, truly. He embeds clever jokes throughout the plot and doesn’t pass up any opportunity to be sarcastic. On the other hand, it’s his first novel and it reads like one. At times he tries for quirkiness a little too hard and you can sense the desperation he has to be a witty writer. Additionally, the plot crumbles into a haphazard mess at the end. In my opinion, Moore makes the story excessively complex which distracts from the core of what he’s trying to convey. It’s as if he’s so excited about all of these bizarre and brilliant ideas, so he crams them all into one story and then nothing fits. Despite these flaws, I recognize his talent and I trust that he developed as a story-teller. I’m super stoked to read his sixth novel: Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal and from my glance at Goodreads, it appears that most devoted readers attest to Moore's improvements. Still, Practical Demonkeeping had all of the elements of a good, funny narrative but its tendency towards incoherence knocks the rating down to 3 out of 5 camel humps.
*Moore, Christopher. Practical Demonkeeping. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.

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