Hey, readers! It’s time for some literary liquor with your friends here at Nerd Cactus. This week is particularly exciting for me because this book is actually one of my absolute favorites in the world. When A and I were coming up with books to review, this was one of my top three, and I’m glad that it’s finally time to present it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.
Yes. This is a novel about Jesus Christ, or Joshua as he is called. But it isn’t a Christian story; it doesn’t seek to convert anyone or promote a religious message, except maybe to be groovy to one another. The novel follows the life and times of Joshua bar Joseph through the eyes of his best friend, Levi who is called Biff–which is actually a Hebrew word for a smack upside the head. It follows the pair from the time they are six years old all the way through the not-so-surprise ending, focusing primarily upon Josh’s efforts to learn how to be the Messiah. You see, he has no idea what to do–an Angel showed up when Josh was ten (having been distracted by a card game with Michael all that time) to alert Josh to his destiny, but left no instructions–and he’s somehow supposed to lead the Jews to the Kingdom. So he and Biff take off to find the Three Wise Men, and many adventures are had.
What’s so special about this book is the way it manages to convey Joshua’s humanity. He is guileless and somewhat naive, always seeing the best in people and looking for goodness even if it isn’t there. Unkindness confuses him, cruelty angers him. But he is not holier-than-thou; Joshua feels the full force of his burden, and spends much of the novel lost and unsure of himself. Like so many of us, Joshua needs to learn and find his path, and his stumbling and bumbling is both sympathetic and humanizing. Where Christopher Moore gets it so right is in his ability to make Joshua–Jesus Christ–seem so much like us and, in turn, remind us that the man was ultimately human. If he could work through his problems and push past his insecurities, so can we.
More, this book is fun-ny. If you have not read Christopher Moore before, this is definitely a good book with which to start. He has recently delved into the world of Shakespeare with Fool (a comedic re-telling of Lear) and The Serpent of Venice (an equally comedic re-telling of Othello, the Merchant of Venice and, from the world of Poe, the Cask of Amontillado), which I must also heartily recommend, but for me…Lamb is the best. Something about the combination of humor and humanity just does it for me. Much of the book’s humor comes from its narrator, Levi who is called Biff, who has been left out of the Bible for being “such an asshole”. Christ has him resurrected to tell his story so it can be included in the Bible, probably because it gets so much wrong (according to Biff, anyway). Biff is Josh’s…handler, I’d say. He is the man who gets his hands dirty in order to keep Josh safe, and there is no one more devoted to Josh in the whole world (except maybe Maggie). It is from his point of view that we see the events of the story, and much of the humor derives from the fact that he seems to think a lot more like a modern human than everyone around him. Sure, there isn’t really sticky string keeping us attached to the planet, but he was right about coffee.
Throughout the story are brief interludes of Biff’s time in the modern world, trapped in a hotel room with the universe’s stupidest Angel (the one who was ten years late delivering the message), Raziel. For me, some of the book’s most hilarious moments come from Biff’s observations about our times, like how we just don’t have the common decency to die, or how delicious pizza really is. (Or that Raziel wants to be Spider-man, and rap is impossible to decipher.) Biff is regarded throughout the book as something of a moron, but he isn’t really; I mean, he can be, but he is also often much more practical and more of a realist than just about anyone else in the book. He is simply…unique, and in the exact opposite way of Josh. Probably because no one else could keep the man alive for so long.
So, if you want to read a book wherein Christ is not a carpenter (rocks, Josh…rocks), the reason Jews have Chinese food on Josh’s birthday is explained, Jesus meets a Yeti, and can squeeze himself into an urn (as well as how sarcasm was invented and why there are rabbits on Easter)…well, this is the book for you. Also, there’s a lovely version that’s been printed to look like the Bible, so there’s that!
Now…what to pair with this book? Well…it’s Lamb, so of course a lovely Pinot Noir! (No, seriously…it pairs so well with roast leg of lamb…do it…Biff would approve.) Ideally from California, though. Why? Because, like this book, California Pinot’s are full, with big, lush, and fruit-forward tastes ranging from black cherry to black raspberry (and some undertones of vanilla, clove, caramel, and even Coca-Cola). Any wine that sort of tastes like soda…I think that’s the wine for Biff. But, I must also recommend a full, Chinese feast (even if it isn’t Josh’s birthday) and a delicious cup of coffee for afterwards (with goat’s milk and cinnamon, ideally, but really…however you want to take it is fine). Just…stay away from the yak.
OK! So…that wraps up another edition of Boozy Books! Seriously…run, don’t walk to get this book. It’s amazing.