Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
- Christopher Moore
- William Morrow
- A- Community Grade
In novels like Bloodsucking Freaks and The Lust Lizard Of Melancholy Cove, Christopher Moore tackled B-movie tropes and trash-tabloid tales through quick-moving comedies that sometimes fell over themselves trying to cram too much material into too limited a conceptual space. His latest, Lamb, finds a more moderate pace, a more grounded subject, and a story that's more his size: the life of Christ, particularly the 30 years of it that the Bible mostly ignores. Moore's narrator is Levi, the son of Alphaeus, generally held to be the same disciple as Matthew, but here a separate person nicknamed Biff. Biff first meets Jesus (here called Joshua, after the Hebrew "Yeshua") when they're both 6 years old, and Joshua is happily resurrecting a lizard which his younger brother keeps killing. Biff is a colorful smart-aleck, always ready with a one-liner or a convincing lie; as he and Joshua grow up together, his streetwise ways and fast thinking repeatedly protect his naïve, excessively honest friend from the fallout over the odd miracle, or the conflicts between Jewish rebels and their Roman overlords. When Joshua decides to seek out the three wise men who attended His birth, hoping they can teach Him how to be a proper Messiah, Biff tags along to protect the hapless idealist. Together, they travel to China and India, where Joshua learns the secrets of Buddhist thought and Hindu asceticism, while Biff learns sexual technique, martial arts, sleight of hand, and how to make explosives. On the one hand, Moore takes Jesus' ministry relatively seriously, and seems to suggest how His message might have been formed; on the other, he strings out a Douglas Adams-like road trip full of dry humor, casually humorous sacrilege, and ribald absurdity. But like Gregory Maguire's thematically similar recontextualizations of well-known stories (Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West, Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister), Lamb is an imaginative and entertaining fable that begins to fray when it leaves original territory for familiar ground. In inventing his own conflicted, determined Jesusone who found His conviction one step at a time instead of emerging from the manger fully formed and ready to preachMoore is endlessly, wryly creative. But once Moore's story catches up with the biblical version, his philosophical stroll suddenly becomes a limping sprint. By portraying the disciples as clueless cretins, he seems to be aping Jesus Christ Superstar more than reshaping the world, and Joshua's attempts to cap off the Beatitudes with "Blessed are the dumbfucks" and "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for they shall receive a fruit basket" just seem strained. Like Christ's world-wise, more competent half, Lamb is whip-smart and subversively funny. But it also works best when it works solely on its own terms.