Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

Reviewed by Christina

Full title: The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror

: 2004 (There's also a "Version 2.0" edition from 2005 that has the same text only with an bonus story tacked on to the end.)

It's about: I'm going to use the bookjacket description because it gives a better idea of the novel's style and tone than anything I could come up with:
"'Twas the night (okay, more like the week) before Christmas, and all through the tiny community of Pine cove, California, people are busy buying, wrapping, packing, and generally getting into the holiday spirit. It is the hap-hap-happiest time of the year, after all.
But not everybody is feeling the joy. Little Joshua Barker is in desperate need of a holiday miracle. No, he's not on his deathbed; no, his dog hasn't run away from home. But Josh is sure that he saw Santa take a shovel to the head, and now the seven=year-old has only one prayer: Please, Santa, come back from the dead.
But hold on! There's an angel waiting in the wings. (Wings, get it?) It's none other than the Archangel Raziel come to Earth seeking a small child with a wish that needs granting. Unfortunately, our angel's not sporting the brightest halo in the bunch, and before you can say 'Kris Kringle' he's botched his sacred mission and sent the residents of Pine Cove headlong into Christmas chaos, culminating in the most hilarious and horrifying holiday party the town has ever seen."

I thought: Remember last year when I included this book on my Top Ten Books to Read During the Holidays even though I hadn't actually read it yet? Well now I've read it. And the good news is that I don't regret putting it on that list. During the last month of the year, I relish a good strong dose of Christmas irreverence. I get so tired of everything being warm and fuzzy and special. So in its silliness and cynicism, The Stupidest Angel was the right read at the right time. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I didn't shed a tear. It was great.

I also liked that Christopher Moore seemed to be seizing the idea that ANYTHING can happen in fiction. This book has a wacky plot that is just all over the place. There's a contagious sense of authorial joie de vivre that you don't often have in serious fiction. But it's clever and well-written enough to keep the intelligent reader interested.

I didn't go gaga over everything about it, though. I hate that certain forced feeling that I get sometimes when I'm reading books that are classified under the Humor heading. The "Wings, get it?" line in the synopsis above is a perfect example. It's a joke. It is intended to make you laugh, and that break in the fourth wall distracts and annoys me. No humorous book is ever going to be 100% successful all the time with every reader, and it makes me feel awkward to be reminded of that when I'm reading.

Still, I did laugh at a lot of Christopher Moore's jokes.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf! I won't call it high art, but it's amusing and refreshing in sort of a dirty way.

Reading Recommendations: Check it out if Christmas makes you cranky, or if you liked Zombieland and/or Shaun of the Dead

Warnings: Guess what! Mr. Moore includes one himself! It reads: "If you're buying this book as a gift for your grandma or a kid, you should be aware that it contains cusswords as well as tasteful depictions of cannibalism and people in their forties having sex. Don't blame me. I told you."

Favorite excerpts: The opening paragraph: "Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe."


"Winter denial: therein lay the key to California Schadenfreude-- the secret joy that the rest of the country feels at the misfortune of California. The country said: 'Look at them, with their fitness and their tans, their beaches and their movie stars, their Silicon Valley and silicone breasts, their orange bridge and their palm trees. God, I hate those smug, sunshiny bastards!' Because if you're up to your navel in a snowdrift in Ohio, nothing warms your heart like the sight of California on fire. If you're shoveling silt out of your basement in the Fargo flood zone, nothing brightens your day like watching a Malibu mansion tumbling down a cliff into the sea. And if a tornado just peppered the land around your Oklahoma town with random trailer trash and redneck nuggets, then you can find a quantum of solace in the fact that the earth actually opened up in the San Fernando Valley and swallowed a whole caravan of commuting SUVs."

What I'm reading next: My Evangeline by Heidi Radford Legg