OK, I admit it. I went in the chain bookstore instead of the independent bookseller. Well, I got what I deserved, but in my own defense, I was next door to Borders, and gas was freaking two-and-a-half bucks a gallon.
Anyway, it was a hungover Sunday, and all I wanted was a good book I could chew on while I lazed the afternoon away.
“Who’s the latest cult writer?” I asked the young man who was standing behind the information desk. No idea, and apparently the concept of a writer being popular among a certain group of people but not society at large was foreign to him.
“You know,” I compared, “hip, like Chuck Palahniuk.” So he asked the urban-primitive-looking woman most likely to have read The Sun Also Rises, who suggested Dashiell Hammett. I had to give her points for originality. Finally, she hit on Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, although she couldn’t remember the author’s name. But that’s how we landed on Fluke Or, I know why the Winged Whale Sings, which she told me was Moore’s latest. Well, it’s not his latest; his latest is called The Stupidest Angel, A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, but I didn’t read that one, although it would have been the logical book to review.
Christopher Moore is a comic genius, if you ask me. Lamb was definitely one of the top 10 funniest novels I’ve ever read, top 5 even. Fluke is funny, but it wasn’t what you’d call a laugh riot—not that you’d call anything a laugh riot, unless you happen to be a movie reviewer, in which case, you probably would call it a laugh riot.
But that’s neither here nor there. Loosely, the book is about Hawaiian whale researchers, love and the unknown. Many readers would find the intersection of the three predictable, particularly when the character of the narwhal and sperm whales is considered. The main course of research is the song of the humpback whale, which, if you are to take Moore’s word for it, is a mystery. (PBS online verifies this assertion.)
The novel contains a couple deceptively stereotypical characters, like the intern—yes, the intern’s a hot she—and the stoney beach bum—yes, he’s actually quite intelligent. There’s a Jeff Goldblum-type scientist, handsome and brilliant but socially inept. He’s the hero, and his hyper-masculine name is Nate Quinn. Nathan Quinn. Nate. Quinn. I don’t know, I guess he could have named him Stone Mallory. (I gotta take a break, we’re watching the Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Marie makes an abstract sculpture, and my 8-year-old just informed me that it’s a butt. Innocence. Kinda like taking the word of a bookstore associate who’s uncertain of the definition of the words “latest” or “cult.")
Should a book reviewer maintain the pretense of not being a spoiler for a book that was published in hardback in June 2004? Screw it; there are 81 customer reviews on Amazon.com. The goddamned whales are ships run by a humanoid, underwater species with prehensile pee-pees. The hot research assistant is Amelia Earhart’s daughter. There’s a homegrown alien intelligence 623 feet below the surface of the ocean.
Look, the book is funny. There’s a story about a pair of whales’ wienies and a rubber raft that’s almost as funny as the bit in Moby Dick where the guy dresses up in the dead whale’s foreskin. It’s perfect fare for someone who is suffering from a fair-to-middlin’ hangover.
So, the question becomes, is Fluke funny enough to drive across town for? I guess that would depend on how far you’re driving, the price of gas and how much you trust the person who’s selling you the book.