Let’s Talk Books (Sort of) – A Dirty Job

Warning: Spoilers

For those of us uncomfortable or fearful of change – especially if change happens frequently and provides little to better our lives – it helps to know there’s always something you can rely on. A constant, if I may borrow something from Lost. Like maybe there’s always been a restaurant you could go to that you’ve been visiting for years. Maybe there’s an album that always lifts your spirits. Maybe there’s a movie that you watch whenever you’re sad and you can share some of your sadness with it.

Unfortunately, these things aren’t resilient to change. They may hold up better than other things when change happens, but eventually you may find yourself not being able to count on the “rocks” in your life that you thought would always hold you together. (And for the purpose of this post, I’m talking about physical things like the examples above. People that play a similar role in our lives is something I’ll talk about another time.)

Recently I’ve had the misfortune of discovering that I no longer liked my favorite book as much as I used to. It seems so stupid to write a post about, but it’s been bugging me ever since I started rereading last month and I kind of want to get it off my chest. The book is A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore. He’s one of my favorite authors, and starting with this book, I’ve been reading his work for almost 10 years now.

I first found it in Barnes and Noble in 2006 during my senior year of high school. I’d lost my childhood love of reading after years of being subjugated to books I held no interest in throughout middle and high school, not being able to understand the themes and concepts the schools tried to teach me, and dealing with snobbish attitudes by other students that actually liked to read. I fell into the anime and video game crowd, and at the time it seemed more of a proper fit for me so I never really missed my love of reading all too much. Sure, I’d stray away from reading manga every now and then for an actual book – I read the fifth and sixth Harry Potter books when they were released, I got really in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when the movie was released, and I spent at least a month trying to make my way through Dracula after developing a fascination with vampires by watching an anime called Hellsing (this fascination was so great that I ended up writing my senior paper about vampires throughout literature, something that seemed a lot more interesting and badass before Twilight swept the nation).

But it wasn’t until I read A Dirty Job that I felt like I really connected with a book again. Christopher Moore wrote like I’d never seen anyone write before. The writing and dialogue was extremely humorous and felt very modern. The way his characters went back and forth with quips made me feel like I was listening to an episode of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family (if I had been watching those shows at the time, or if they’d been created at all). The story was about a guy that lost his wife immediately after his child was born. In addition to adjusting to this new life, he was also given the task of becoming what the book coins a “Death Merchant,” who needs to obtain souls of those about to pass away and help guide them to their next destination. And yes, these last two sentences feel very dark and serious, but it’s mostly written in a light, humorous way. While the book had it’s fair share of more serious moments, it’s safe to say that it’s a comedy and everything in it should be taken as such.

And it was really interesting, too. If the protagonist doesn’t find souls in time, they fall into the hands of The Morrigan, who live underground and are trying to gain enough power back to emerge into the world and take over. There are a lot of little nods towards mythology regarding death and the afterlife throughout the book, and anyone interested in stuff like that would find a lot in the book to enjoy. The fact that it has fun with these elements makes for an even more enjoyable read.

Maybe it was because it’s not quite the same type of fiction I was forced to read in school for so long. After years of dealing with stories in anime and video games, where realism is definitely not a prominent trait, this was a really good book to help me get back into the world of fiction. There was enough supernatural stuff going on that it felt like an adventure, yet there was enough human nature and commentary in it to make it realistic enough to speak out to me, at least a little. I can’t say my love for reading came back immediately after, but over the next few years I started reading more book books. Granted, a lot of them were cheesy YA novels (which I had a total thing for in my early college days), but still. I was starting to enjoy reading again outside of manga. And it was all because of this book.

I reread this book every year, year and half tops. It’s my favorite for not just how funny and interesting I thought it was, but because it set me back on the path of appreciating fiction. It influenced my own writing style for many years, and eventually put me on the path to wanting to become a writer. If I’m ever depressed or in the need of a good laugh, I could always count on A Dirty Job.

This most recent reread, though, didn’t leave me feeling nearly as satisfied as I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book or anything. I still laughed at enough parts, so I was enjoying it. But I don’t know, it just didn’t hold up as well. In fact, there were certain parts of the book that left me really annoyed.

For one, remember the quips I mentioned earlier? There’s a lot of back and forth conversation involving quips like these, and they’re still great, but it became more and more jarring to feel that natural flow be interrupted by stating who just said a line or sprinkling little descriptions between every few lines. I remember trying these types of conversations all the time in my college fiction workshops, and I always messed it up because I didn’t always say who said what or added additional descriptions. I wanted to capture that feel of quickly going back and forth in a conversation the way Moore had, even if he did break it up a lot with these methods. And I always felt like you could do all this in fiction, it’s just a matter of doing it well. (Do we really need so many “person a said” and “person b said” when there are only two people in the conversation?)

But the more I read A Dirty Job, the more I felt like this kind of dialogue would work better on film than in literature, and I started coming to the realization that one of my favorite things about my favorite author was becoming a source of annoyance.

Another thing: Christopher Moore is very much a guy’s author. Meaning there’s a lot of jokes in here that are more for men than women, and a lot of it’s content is aimed more for men then women. I’ve read a lot of comments about his work on Goodreads, and a lot of women enjoy his books just as much as men. And when I went to see him on tour last year, there were just as many women there as men. So I don’t know, I guess it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s only for guys.

But some of the things he says reminds me of stuff like The Man Show. Depending on context, he’d often make a lot of dick and boob jokes, and while I’m not above that, the way he did it made it feel a little juvenile. Like he wouldn’t just limit himself to saying dick, but go through the whole cycle of cliche alterations, like wang, schlong, etc. And while I can appreciate that he mixed up the vocabulary a little bit, some of these words just sound so… stupid. Like, who says “fun bags” when talking about breasts? Realistically, who? No one. It’s one of those phrases that only exists in places like… well, The Man Show, I guess. I know these sound like really petty complaints, and to some extent I agree. These were always little issues I’ve had with Moore ever since I first started reading him, but something about this latest reread just really irked the hell out of me with those little things.

Then there’s the last third of the book. It always struck me as a little off, and over the years I’ve been slowly realizing why. Again, it wasn’t until this latest reread that it actually bothered me, though. So after years of trying to get over the death of his wife, the protagonist finally finds someone. They get together, he falls in love all over again, and… ugh. The way it’s handled is very, very much like you would expect in a movie. The woman, despite having an extremely lengthy explanation of her past, is a pretty flat character. She’s one of those I-only-exist-as-a-love-interest-for-the-main-character kind of character.

It also doesn’t help that she’s written as a poor female character. She’s sweet, kind, a little naive, too supportive, etc. You’ve seen this character before and she feels very much like a plot device. I can’t say I hate her or that I hate that she and the main character find love in each other after spending so much time alone (in fact I’m happy for them, if still put off at the “new romance” phase they both go through that’s always so annoying), but the way it’s handled feels extremely rushed.

There’s also this scene towards the end of the book that makes me cringe in general. Before he goes off to fight The Morrigan in “the final battle,” he calls almost every single character from the book to his living room in this awkward, “I know I’ve been very secretive about what I’ve been doing throughout the whole book, but I just wanted to call you together to say I’m going off to do another secret thing and I may not come back” kind of thing, and god it just… UGH!

I don’t know why this kind of scene annoys me so much. Maybe it’s because, like I said, he had to keep the whole Death Merchant thing a secret from almost everyone during the entire book, so calling them all together to announce he has to go off and do more secret things seems kind of stupid. Like it’s supposed to glamorize him as a hero and everyone’s supposed to just go along with it and support him.

The fact that everyone does basically go along with it doesn’t help. To be fair, there are a lot of times in the book where people address this and try to get him to reveal what’s been going on. But they never push enough. It reminds me of Spiderman (the 2002 movie) a little too much. In fact, I don’t think it would be terribly inaccurate to compare some scenes (especially this one) to any superhero movie where a bunch of people unrealistically rally to support someone that’s been distant and secretive. And it’s like I’m just supposed to buy that because the guy is off being a good guy.

This whole scene, and the whole end of the book, really, seems very cliched and cheesy. It always rubbed me the wrong way, but again, this latest reread left me cringing.

Writing this was depressing. I feel like all I’ve done was bashed Moore and this book. Please don’t get me wrong, Christopher Moore is still one of my favorite authors, and I’d like to believe that in some form this book is still one of my favorites, if for no other reason than the role it played in my life. But this was one of those cases where I was extremely aware how something I could always count on had failed me. I originally thought it was because I just haven’t been in a reading mood lately. Like maybe I just didn’t feel like reading and that’s why I never really wanted to pick it up, forcing myself to finish it. And I guess part of that could be true, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I haven’t been in a reading mood for a little while now, but I still found myself enjoying other books way more. Just like with my love for anime, I’m beginning to think I’ve simply outgrown this.

And that’s hard, so, so hard to admit after it’s been one of my constants for almost 10 years now. But I suppose in some ways it’s good. I guess it shows some signs of growing up. My tastes have definitely changed over the past few years, and I’m glad they have. What I look for in fiction is very different than when I first got back into reading it all those years ago, so I guess it’s a little natural to be put off by this book. But even during those times of change, this book always did something for me, whether it suited my tastes or not. I guess that’s what this all comes back to and why it irks me so much – the book couldn’t do for me what it always could. And I needed it to.

“Mature” isn’t something I’d say to describe myself, but I don’t think I’m completely immature, either. I’m not above liking stupid things and enjoying the immature. I mean geez, the other day at work I picked up this decorative Easter chick, held it out to my coworker, and said “Here, I got you this because you’re a – hot chick -” and then proceeded to laugh and grin at my oh-so-clever pun. I’m not above stuff like this. But I think there’s a line between immaturity and being juvenile, and unfortunately, a lot of stuff in this book came off juvenile this time around. And that really scares me.

Some things should always be counted on. And when they can’t, it can be really unsettling.

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