Christopher Moore is not a Fluke
My local trade book pusher dropped a copy of Christopher Moore’s Fluke. Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings into my bag before we left town for family Christmas in Omaha and professional obligations in Chicago. Moore’s Lamb received lots of good press on this blog and, although Fluke doesn’t touch Lamb in the “hilariously profane” category, it is also a captivating story with enough oddball stuff, as well as sex and drugs and whale songs, to make me sad when it was over. A central love–or lust–story between a marine biologist who studies humpback whales and his summer assistant appears to structure the “tale” but the human story of desires denied and fulfilled takes a back seat to the grand narrative underlying the whole thing.
I can attest that I didn’t see Gooville coming. I didn’t envision that Fluke, like Lamb, would turn out to be a witty, sexy, irreverent book about something big–whales, Jesus, whathaveyou–that turns out to be about something much larger than us all. Of course, Lamb telegraphs to the reader that it is a gospel and perhaps the reader then expects that s/he will read things that make them think, or laugh, or reflect on the Bible, or on what Jesus represents for us as a culture or for us as individuals. Fluke, in its own way, does much the same thing. Whereas Lamb invents a relationship between Jesus and his parents and his friends that explains how early Christianity is born and differentiated from the traditions of ancient Judaism, Fluke introduces the reader to a manifestation of the divine that is less anthropomorphic and yet still personal and intense.
The marine biologist finds himself, after an adventure I don’t want to give away, in a deep underwater cavern called Gooville. It is the locale of the primordial soup–the stuff whence all life on earth came–first from the sea, then evolving on land. When the soup, the Goo, realizes that some of its favorite creatures, the whales, are being killed, it tries to learn more about the enemy (humans, duh) and invents a whole host of creature things to do its explorations for it and “report” back. In addition to narrating a pretty powerful commentary on the effects of man attempting to be/come God (a wayward scientist wants to destroy the Goo before it destroys humanity–things do not end well for said wayward scientist), Fluke creates the most clever creatures I’ve encountered in a while: the whaley boys. Whaley boys (who are both male and female) steer the ship, talk in a mashed-elf voice, look like a killer whale, or a blue whale, or a humpback whale, or a minke whale (depending on the “breed” of whaley boy) and are sexually promiscuous and polymorphously perverse. The male whaley boys like to wave their prehensile penises around–how can you not love a large marine mammal with a sense of humor?
The whaley boys are the Goo’s first line of defense against total destruction by humankind, but they are an artificial beast, and provide comic relief. The real whopper of the story is when we, and the marine biologist, learn why the actual whales sing. The Goo gives life and food to all the creatures of the sea. The whales, we learn, sing to say thank you to the Goo–a kind of prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of hunger–and the Goo provides for them, creating krill out of the primordial soup for their taking.
The whales pray. It’s actually a small line in the novel. Much more is written about how the Goo interacts with humans, its power to heal and rejuvenate. Even then, a pot-smoking, poser surfer boy from New Jersey who is masquerading as a Hawaiian gets more lines than the Goo. But the Goo, Moore implies, is supposed to be a secret anyway. We–and the pot-smoking, poser surfer boy–don’t need to see the Goo or go to the Goo. We just need to know that the Goo loves the whales and that we shouldn’t kill them. We need to know that the ocean is not their for our amusement–whether recreational, scientific, or military–but that it is the true cradle of civilization. Moore has again written a funny, funny novel that is a novel of faith. Faith in a God, a Creator of sorts (maybe not the Sistine Chapel “Creator” but nonetheless. . . ) who demands that we be caretakers, not destroyers, of the bounty the Creator has given us.
Maybe we should send a copy to Bush, hmmm?