Friday, May 4, 2012

A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore

If you have refined sensibilities--say, for example, you do not like bathroom jokes, sex played for laughs, foul language, characters who are ethnic stereotypes, and the like--A Dirty Job is not for you. If, however, you can look past lapses into the gross and/or offensive, you will find A Dirty Job an entertaining read that will occasionally prompt you to think about death and the soul.

The book's cast of wacky characters revolves around Charlie Asher, owner of a second-hand shop; as the book opens, he is driving his wife Rachel, who has just given birth to their first child (a daughter they have named Sophie), and the nurses in the maternity ward crazy with his obsessive worry about whether Sophie has too many fingers, a tail, or other abnormalities. Rachel sends him home to get some rest, but when he gets to the car, he realizes she doesn't have her favorite Sarah McLachlan CD and runs back to the hospital to give it to her. When Charlie gets to her room, a tall black man dressed in a mint green suit is standing in the room, shocked that Charlie can see him; Rachel is dead, the victim of an aneurysm (or something similar). Not only has Charlie become a widower and single parent, he has also been tagged to be a "death merchant"--a person who collects soul vessels (objects into which souls escape when a person dies) and makes them available for purchase by people who, unknowingly, need souls.

From there, the plot becomes ever wilder. Suffice it to say that it involves evil spirits living in the sewers of San Francisco,  two "hounds of hell" who arrive unannounced to protect Sophie from those evil spirits, an attractive Buddhist who animates (as in Frankenstein, not cartoons) small creatures made of animal bones and wearing elaborate historic costumes,  a former Oakland police officer who works in Charlie's store but periodically travels to the Philippines to meet women he found on a "desperate Filipinas" website.

I laughed and cringed in equal measure while listening to A Dirty Job (read well by the appropriately snarky-sounding actor Fisher Stevens), but I did find it entertaining and even from time to time thought-provoking and touching.

Favorite passage:
She's been acting like dying was something she could do in her spare time, between hair appointments.

...another hospice worker, another of the amazing women that Charlie had seen in the homes of the dying, helping to deliver them into the next world, with as much comfort and dignity and even joy as they could gather. Benevolent Valykries, midwives of the final light, they were. . . . They became involved with every patient and every family. They were engaged.

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