Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Thoughts: "Fluke" by Christopher Moore

I hate being told when to laugh. I hate when a story grabs me by the elbow and drags me towards the joke, pointing at it the whole way, shouting, "See?" With that in mind, here's my copy of Fluke by Christopher Moore:

Incidentally, how can someone be as well hidden as that New York Times blurb suggests Moore is and still be a "national bestseller"? I've always been interested in the presentation of books: the blurbs, cover designs, review snippets, etc. Fluke isn't the prettiest book I've seen, but I do like that Moore's books have a unity in their presentation, and this volume looks like it's meant to sit alongside the copy of Lamb I picked up a few years back. Lamb, though flawed, was an enjoyable read, and I expected the same of Fluke.

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings starts with marine biologist Nate Quinn studying humpback whales when, all of a sudden, he sees one with "Bite me" written across its tail. Crazy, right? Don't you want to slap you knee just thinking about it? Good thing, because this irreverent whale jump starts a whole series of increasingly odd events until things take a turn for the science fictional.

It's this turn that seems to bother people in other reviews I've read, but I thought it was intriguing, and Moore deserves credit for describing these otherworldly elements as quickly and effectively as he does. Worldbuilding can easily weigh a novel down, especially when it begins over one hundred pages in. Instead I felt that, after wandering around giggling at itself for fifteen chapters, Fluke was finally going somewhere.

However, the vast majority of the story goes by with little to no real conflict and, once the danger finally presents itself, it disappears shortly afterwards doing almost no damage whatsoever. It feels like something really cool could have happened here, but we wound up with an otherwise decent yarn truncated by a clunky, poorly-tied knot. Everything is fine. Everything always was, for the most part, fine.

If the characters had been better developed, I think I could have forgiven the plot, but even the protagonist's personality doesn't go anywhere beyond "horny scientist", so the others never stood a chance. There's the "loyal friend", the "sexy assistant", and the "comedic relief" who, admittedly, does make me laugh at one point when they pay someone in marijuana and he offers to list this in the expense report as "Nugs, dank". Even towards the end when the sexy assistant has so many things revealed about her at once that, collectively, they cease to be shocking, her personality is resolutely one-dimensional.

What's worse is we never find out why "Bite me" was written on that whale's tail in the first place. We find out how it got there, but never why, and its whole existence is pretty much a red herring. Even so, in the end it was lines like "Shoes off in the whale!"and "In the big picture there be madness" that I could practically feel waggling their eyebrows at me that really left me disappointed.

There were also some jokes about feminism and homosexuality I felt were dismissive (one character becomes a lesbian because she literally gets her fill of dick, then refuses to say anything too nice at her ex-husbands funeral because it may upset her current lover). Overall, I had expected better. Fluke is the worst I've seen from Christopher Moore, and hopefully it stays that way, because I do intend to give him another try. If you're reading this, do you have any recommendations? What, in your opinion, is Moore's best work? What's his worst?

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