A Dirty Job
William Morrow / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
Publication Date: 03-21-2006
387 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed: 03-23-06
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2006
Christopher Moore is one of those writers who is constantly turning in his best performance. You read his latest book, in this case, 'A Dirty Job' and you can't help but think, "This is his best yet!" Then you remember that his last book was his best yet, and you just have to give on the comparison aspects of same-author evaluation. Every book Moore writes is consistently funny, different and insightful. His imagination is always on overdrive, but no matter how far out Moore goes, he writes exactly what has to be written, what destiny has demanded be placed on the page. He's a natural at the unnatural. Each and every work hits the reader upside the head with big ol' stick of fun. That said, 'A Dirty Job' is his best book yet.
Moore's novel begins when Charlie Asher sees something he shouldn’t see. There's a man in a mint green suit standing over his wife's bed as their baby Sophie is born and his wife dies. In one swift, sweet, surreal, sad and silly moment, Moore neatly captures the conflict that drives our lives. Death and birth, life neverlasting. And Charlie's life is only beginning to get strange. As even people he doesn't know start to die around him, as he begins to see giant ravens melting into solid shadows, Charlie Asher begins to suspect that he now has a rather unusual relationship not just with life, but with Death. Death with a capital D.
'A Dirty Job' revolves around Moore's cast of characters who seem a bit strange but are really rather normal. On second thought, maybe not. Then again, Charlie is exceedingly normal, so normal that Moore develops an utterly brilliant conceit for normal men in Our Modern World that plays through the book like a sweet, sad, and yet very silly saxophone solo. For Charlie is, as Moore calls him, a Beta Male.
Take a breath. That's a phrase that's going to be rumbling through your mind for years to come. Let me turn things over to Moore here, for a second, even though I'm reviewing his novel. Some things are important, and you're better off hearing this direct from the source.
" Well, the way I define the Beta male, is a strain of guys who survived through the millennia by virtue of developing a big imagination, rather than big muscles, good looks, or aggression, the way an Alpha male may have prevailed. The Beta survived not by meeting and beating danger, but by anticipating and avoiding it. So his "big teeth" so to speak, is his imagination. Well, logic tells you that when a Beta male is confronted with an extraordinary or supernatural situation, the way Charlie is in A Dirty Job, that he’ll have an easier time wrapping his imagination around it and seeing the new rules than would someone who is more locked into a system of thought."
Got that? OK! Look, it's a measure of how good this book is that I go to the source to get the definition of the central concept here. Suffice it to say that Moore unfurls this conceit cleverly, brilliantly and just often enough that you enjoy it but don’t feel like he's beating you over the head with it. What this devolves to in the writing of the novel is that Charlie Asher is utterly, completely, and totally like about every guy you know. As a character he doesn't just walk off the pages and into your life; he hangs over your shoulder and turns the pages for you as you read. Now that's immersive writing.
The rest of Moore's cast here fares equally well. Charlie's sister Jane is a lesbian and wears his suits, but she and her girlfriend seem so unforced that you won’t think of them as anything but people you know. That guy in the green gets a name I'll let the reader discover, but rest assured he kicks ass and takes prisoners. Russian and Chinese nannies, sewer-dwelling dark spirits and even re-animated squirrel skeletons all march right up to you, introduce themselves and shake your hands. Yes, it's pretty creepy when the squirrels do it.
When the typical arc for so many novels of supernatural terror and error is say a day, maybe a week, it's particularly refreshing to find that Moore takes us through life in the long haul. It's also appropriate, because he's not just offering up huge chunks of hilarious dialogue and entertainingly outré situations. Moore is intent on giving readers life's rich pageant. Love, hate, birth, death and some verily creepy monsters leaven the sweetness and love, along with an acerbic sense of humor. Yes, Moore offers the same laugh quotient you'll find in his other books. Read this one in public at your own risk, if you consider laughing at a book a risk. These days, who knows? Maybe it's better to be safe than sorry.
For all the lovely writing, great jokes, memorable characters and reanimated squirrel skeletons, Moore is dong some rather subversive work here. The supernatural concept at the heart of the novel subverts and suggests just about every religious belief there is out there. Maybe not $cientology, OK. But. The point is that Moore makes you think without making you think that you've thought. Your brain will process some of the heftier concepts even as your belly enjoys the somewhat lower humor. In between, your heart will be periodically chilled and warmed. It's a whole body book.
Did I mention that 'A Dirty Job' is Moore's best book yet? Or that it includes re-animated squirrel skeletons? Check and check. That there's a character who wears a minty green suit? Check. That Death with a capital D is involved? Check. Moore, always an original, has taken the path trodden by many a writer -- personifying Death -- and made it so much his own, we're going to have to rename the whole damn street after him. Don’t die before you read this book. I think that pretty much gives you an idea of what you can expect in 'A Dirty Job'. Life, death–everything in-between. And, yes, now, I can say I've done my job.