Wednesday, June 9, 2010

No splash from Fluke

I had no sooner finished the hauntingly beautiful Kitchen when the library sent me one of those annoying notices that indicates that even though you have taken out a book in good faith for a particular amount of time, some other patron would now like it, so your rights to said book are going to be coming to a close sooner than you had anticipated. I had planned for Christopher Moore’s Fluke, Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings to fulfill part of task 15.1 in the Seasonal Reading Challenge, a very clever old or new & borrowed or blue task. Since I had never read a Christopher Moore title (although I have had Lamb in my TBR pile for some time), its cover qualified it for the new & blue part of the task. Since I didn’t feel like scrapping the book completely, I decided to squeeze this book in before it had to go back to the library.

Maybe not my best idea.

Let me be clear – I didn’t dislike Fluke because I’m uncomfortable with the genre. I LOVE science fiction and absurd comedy. I firmly believe that there are still people who tell the story about the crazy young woman they saw standing on the LIRR between Woodside and Huntington in 1991 (it was a summer Friday, I couldn’t get a seat), laughing until she cried while reading The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. And the zanier the better. My darling husband once found me on the couch at 3 in the morning, gasping so hard with laughter while reading Boomsday that I couldn’t catch my breath (he rushed down the stairs thinking I was having an asthma attack!). Really, all I could do was snort! So even though my last few titles have been literary in nature, I was honestly looking forward to changing pace and sharing a hearty laugh with Christopher Moore at some point this summer.

I admit it, I was disappointed. But I haven’t quite figured out why. Maybe it was all the hype. Christopher Moore’s writing is so often compared to Douglas Adams’, but I just never found those lines where absurdity becomes hilarity. The character-to-character banter was self-consciously witty, but not sparkling. And all the sphincter references were just gross, not funny.

It may be the characterizations that turned me off. Nate Quinn, the cetacean biologist whose work on whale song brings him up against some mysterious undersea forces, is a likeable character, in that absent-minded professory way that often appeals to me – you could say I know the type. Clay Demodocus is the quintessential heroic sidekick, and Kona is a thoroughly likeable Jersey-boy-cum-Haole-stoner. Research assistant Amy is another story – she was written too snarkily to be a truly likeable smart ass. Ex-wife Libby and her life partner Margaret are caricatures, and without giving too much away, Moore’s rationale for the crystallization of Libby’s lesbian identity sounds like it was written from a point of view that my girlfriends might describe as “compensatory.” I don’t tend to love books where the women aren’t treated sympathetically, and I felt that was the case here.

Much has been made in other reviews about the environmental message of the book. I do believe that saving whales is a very good idea. But because of the ending, the message becomes a threat: SAVE THE WHALES OR ELSE! Not exactly a bio-diversity Kumbaya, is it?

This is a fantasy, so some of the completely ridiculous explanations that make the plot go are part of the fun. And there were a couple of funny bits – the part about not being able to throw a coconut in Lahaina without hitting a Ph.D. was good. But I never laughed out loud. Or even came close to snorting. And that’s when I know a book in this genre didn’t work for me. Still, it could have been bad timing - Kitchen was a tough act to follow - or not Moore’s best effort. I’m not taking Lamb off my TBR pile – but I’ll definitely give it a lighter segue than I gave Fluke.

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