Christopher Moore's career trajectory is similar in a lot of respects to that of Chuck Palahniuk's. Besides similar numbers of books published, with both men publishing fifteen complete works of fiction to date, and numerous movie deals to their credits, they also share another trait. Their ability to appeal to a widespread audience with works that are consistently shocking, grotesque, and often times, unsettling, puts them in a rare breed of writer. Along the way, each has published a dud or several, but with their level of output, no one can fault them for the occasional disappointment. Interestingly enough, Palahniuk's most recent project is a comic book sequel to his most beloved book, the cult classic novel turned Edward Norton/Brad Pitt film that can not be named because of the first rule declared in his 1996 classic. The similarities between the two writers output continues now with Moore's long-awaited sequel to one of his most cherished and successful novels, A Dirty Job. Secondhand Souls brings Moore back to his heyday, and it is a clever reminder as to why he is such a unique and special writer.
Of course, Moore and Palahniuk do not solicit the same reactions with their fiction despite similar realms of story arcs and plots. Legend has it that Palahniuk read his short story "Guts" on a promotional tour, causing thirty-five audience members to faint. At Moore's readings, readers are more likely to keel over from fits of laughter, showing how two similar topics of writing can garner very different responses depending on the tone of the writing style. So how does Moore create laughter from deviously sinister plots, offensive dialogue, and no tangible filter?
In A Dirty Job, Charlie Asher's new job was supplemented by the Big Book of the Dead tasked to collect souls of the dead and record their names. Always in danger, Charlie eventually became a casualty himself, but with the help of Audrey, his soul is rescued and contained in yes, a miniature body made of lunchmeat and random animal parts. In Secondhand Souls, Charlie is eagerly awaiting a new host for his body, tucking himself away from the dangers of the world, and everything that he holds close. His daughter, Sophie, the Luminatu, who has power over death, spends her time with her glitter ponies whom she gives rather comical and inappropriate names. Set in Moore's current home of San Francisco, the souls of the dead are not being collected, causing a new mystery over who is stealing the souls.
Charlie bands together with a cast of characters that will be familiar to Moore's readers, such as Minty Fresh, and the race to solve the battle for each lingering soul of mankind takes off in a raucous adventure filled with Moore's trademark zaniness and absurdist techniques. At one point, a boy named Geoff with a G threatens to jump off the Golden Gate bridge, and when a painter named Mike calls the crisis hotline, Lily perfectly portrays what Moore's characters often represent: a distinct, otherworldly, yet entirely believable persona within Moore's imaginative world. After chastising the young man for stating that his name is Geoff with a G, he ends up jumping, and Mike gets back on the line, only to have Lily ask him out on a date instead of discussing the failures of her job. The only way to truly understand Moore's provocative depictions of human interactions is to experience his light-hearted prose firsthand, but his ability to make deplorable situations comical is where he succeeds in the most profound and surprisingly moving ways.
Secondhand Souls captures all of the same virtues that made A Dirty Job such a commercial success, and revisiting the characters is just as enjoyable as it was the first time around. The book can be read without knowledge of its predecessor, although there is no reason to not pick up his 2006 bestseller first, given the strength of its story, and the plethora of laughs that it will surely provide.
He might be most known for his comic fantasy, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, which just by its name alone, ruffled feathers among devout christians, but like all of Moore's work, judging it by its premise, is a disservice to what he delivers over the course of narrative. He writes about offensive topics in a way that is devoid of any offensive connotations. Moore even includes some literary allusions in the chapter titles of his latest novel. He references Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in the opening chapter of part two, and even plays on "Perchance to Dream," from Shakespeare's Hamlet, which later went on to be the name of a classic Twilight Zone episode as well. I think it is most fitting to align this chapter title with Jonathan Franzen's famous Harper's essay about the state of the novel which was later retitled as "Why Bother?" Why bother to read Christopher Moore's absurd fiction when their is a large library of serious writing available for readers? Secondhand Souls provides comic relief and much needed laughter to break up the monotony of the every day grind. He writes about the "everyman," and Moore's everyman is anything but ordinary because of the expansive walls of his fictional worlds. Secondhand Souls is a perfect way to end your summer reading, proving once again that Christopher Moore is one of a kind.