by Christopher Moore
Tucker Case may just be America’s biggest screw-up. After having a few too many drinks, the young pilot took a hooker up in his boss’ signature pink jet to join the Mile High club, but since he didn’t bother to fill the fuel tank the plane comes crashing down, creating a media nightmare for the Mary Jean Cosmetics Corporation. Tuck is essentially exiled to a remote island in Micronesia, where he works as a pilot for a missionary doctor. But there’s something fishy about the doctor and his Stepford wife Beth; how can two missionaries in the middle of the Pacific dress in designer couture and own a Learjet? Guided by a ghostlike figure no one else can, Tuck meets the native islanders and uncovers a strange cargo cult centered on an American pilot who visited the island during World War II and brought them aid. Realizing that the missionaries are twisting this new religion to their own advantage, Tuck must break free of his incompetence and save the island people.
One of the benefits of reading a book long after its publication is that you can see how it fits into the author’s overall body of work. Playing with religion is a recurring theme in Moore’s stories. In Coyote Blue, published a few years before Love Nun, Moore takes a Native American trickster god and throws him into the 20th century. Sure, the contemporary setting and absurdist plot makes the story stand out, but Coyote acts more or less as he always does in his tales (bawdy versions of which Moore peppers throughout the narrative). A few years after Love Nun, Lamb was published – and the novelization of Jesus Christ’s life is generally regarded as Moore’s best book. Again, it’s very true to the religion involved – Joshua/Jesus Christ is very, well, Christ-like, but his role as Messiah is taken seriously, and he is never a figure of mockery. That role falls to his earthy friend Biff, Christ’s all-too-human best friend who gets himself into enough sin for both of them. Coyote and Christ are both plausible incarnations of their traditional selves, updated for a modern audience.
But both of these gods are established figures working within an ancient religious framework. Sure, Jesus Christ starts a new religion with his resurrection, but during his life he is a Jew. Love Nun is so intriguing because it goes to the very start of religion and creates a genesis story for a new god, new prophets, and shows the horrible ways in which evil people manipulate religion to satisfy their own desires. It makes me think about the early days of Christianity; to a modern American like Tuck, the stories about the god Vincent sound stupid, even crazy – but how can he argue against a god that people have actually met and spoken to, a god who has left sacred objects and succored his people by fulfilling their physical needs?
The story’s also a great exploration of the power of faith and redemption. Tucker Case is, well, a screw-up. Give him enough time and he’ll make a mess of things. Yet over the course of the novel, with a little intervention from Vincent, Tuck discovers a purpose and is transformed into a savior of an entire (tiny) nation of people. It’s pretty remarkable, and yet just on the edge of plausible, because even with Vincent’s help there’s nothing superhuman or magical about Tuck’s actions. It’s…well…believable, at least within constraints of the Moore universe.
Of course, between the frequent appearance of naked women and sexy shenanigans, the crazy cast of characters that includes an ancient cannibal and a transvestite Filipino with a talking pet fruit bat, religion may be the last thing on your mind. The adventure is lively enough – and bizarre enough – that I really didn’t think much of religion the first time I read the story. It was only after reading it for a second time that I started to think about the religious undertones of Love Nun. I really like this layering within the book, though. Read it through quickly and you get a fun adventure with Moore’s usual quirky cast; read it slowly and savor the playful philosophy hidden in the pages.
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: Random Ranting: What NOT TO DO When Submitting a Manuscript
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prequel) by Steven Hockensmith
2009: Henry V: The Graphic Novel by William Shakespeare