Wednesday, March 9, 2011

1995 WFA – TOWING JEHOVA by James Morrow

God is dead. Even more surprising, he was a two-mile tall bearded Caucasian dude, and his body has fallen from Heaven into the Atlantic Ocean. The archangels, dying of grief, contract with the Vatican to hire disgraced oil tanker captain Anthony Van Horne to tow the Holy corpse to a burial site. However, the Church wants to disobey the angels’ orders and cryo-freeze Yahweh, Walt-Disney’s-head-style. At the same time, a team of rogue atheists want to destroy the corpse before anyone catches wind of it.

Yeah, it’s a plot so intriguing/weird that I had to lead with it. It’s in the irreverent, cynical-yet-insightful tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, but wacky blasphemy only takes you so far. Morrow won the 1991 World Fantasy Award as well, for Only Begotten Daughter, a book about Jesus’s little sister who is born into the modern world, becomes a lesbian and writes a tabloid advice column. Other stuff probably happens in that novel, but I put it down halfway through. It’s not that I was offended…in fact, I think the problem was that I was in no way offended. The story’s humor and narrative hooks depend on the reader caring about Morrow’s twisting of religious ideals…and I didn’t. I feel much the same about this work, though I did finish this one.

Both novels were actually well-written and full of well-rounded characters. I really liked the female Messiah’s adopted father in Only Begotten Daughter, for instance, and Van Horne and his Vatican counterpart, a Jesuit physicist named Thomas Ockham are quite nice here. There’s also a decent set of themes – faith and forgiveness, parents and children, and a discussion of the source of ethics similar to The Terminal Experiment’s but infinitely more logical, erudite, and funny. There’s plenty of good here, I just never felt like there was enough story to float the novel. I really liked Morrow’s recent novella, Shambling Towards Hiroshima, and there are many similarities; to destroy God’s body, the atheists hire a bunch of World War II-obsessed special effects gurus that would have fit right into Shambling’s oddball origin-of-Godzilla story. Towing Jehovah has the same play of slapstick and morality tale, cynicism and humanism, and absurdity and metaphor as Shambling…the only real difference is the additional two hundred pages of length. But, I think that is the crucial difference. It’s a good conceit, and well-told, it’s just too long for that conceit to carry. This could’ve been a great novella, but, for me, it’s merely an okay novel.

Grade: B-

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