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by James Morrow

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-15-129325-2
Publisher: Harcourt

Lively prose and a weakness for hilariously bad “death jokes” are prominent among the pleasures offered by this otherwise overwrought satirical fantasy: the conclusion of a loose trilogy depicting a godless near-future (Towing Jehovah, 1994; Blameless in Abaddon,1996). The millennium has dawned, and God (Who died some time ago) exists only as the “Cranium Dei” (His disembodied skull), which orbits the Earth daily, as a second sun-and-moon and a celestial memento mori. Morrow’s insanely ingenious plot, reminiscent, variously, of B’science-fiction movies in the 1950s, Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, and Terry Southern at his most charmingly deranged, brings together several characters unwilling to accept evidence of the planet’s (and their own) mortality, and involves them with patently symbolic avatars of the new nihilism (for example, Dr. Adrian Lucido, a crack psychoanalyst who specializes in euthanasia for the unwilling—thus “preparing” people for immortality. It’s probably best not to try to figure out all the twists and turns, and simply enjoy such feisty survivors as florist delivery-person Nora Shafron and her adolescent son Kevin, who’s one of the first victims of a “plague” that renders humans subject to their “private demons” (Kevin’s is a wisecracking ghoul named Quincy); famed sculptor Gerard Korty, whose herculean effort to render Dante’s Divine Comedy into stone earns a commission from the Vatican to create a reliquary for “God’s bones”—with inartistic, indeed chaotic consequences; and the captain of a tanker who’s responsible for a major oil spill and experiences a most curious redemption. Besides transfiguring Dante, Morrow makes amusing use of Emily Dickinson’s more morbid poems, and the grave and reverend figures of Erasmus and Luther (whom Gerard imagines in heated theological discussion). If you get a kick out of the pre-Christian epic of Gilgamesh dramatized and performed by “The Great Sumerian Traveling Circus and Repertory Company,” and stuff like that, then this is the millennial novel for you. If not, there’s always The Divine Comedy.