The #LazyLambs Book Club returns, as promised! This time around we read A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, and again we’ve each posed a question. If you do your own post, answering these discussion questions or posing your own, drop your post in the linky below — or you can just chitchat in the comments section, of course!
Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy with a normal life, married to a bright and pretty woman who actually loves him for his normalcy. They’re even about to have their first child. Yes, Charlie’s doing okay—until people start dropping dead around him, and everywhere he goes a dark presence whispers to him from under the streets. Charlie Asher, it seems, has been recruited for a new position: as Death.
It’s a dirty job. But, hey! Somebody’s gotta do it.
It’s a good book and I enjoyed it, although I found it a bit stranger somehow than the other two I’ve read. (The Stupidest Angel and then Lamb for book club).
My question was, What do you think of the Alpha Male/Beta Male construction in the book, and how it’s used?
The book is overtly held together by an “Alpha Male/Beta Male” construction. The Alphas run the world, but there are more Betas. The Alphas are assertive and confident and sexy, the Betas overthink and skulk around picking up leftovers. Charlie Asher, as we’re so often reminded, is a Beta.
I’m most familiar with this from the romance-genre world, where “alpha” is a subgenre, and not a small one. In fact the majority of romance heroes are probably alphas. And I hate it. I will dump a book for the slightest hint of it. I find it deeply heteronormative, but even same-sex romances have them: Male heroes who are basically enormous assholes. Most of the time they aren’t at all concerned about consent, and if they do nod to the concept, they’re still all about power. They consider their women to be their property, to be protected of course, and pleasured in the bedroom, but all in service of their own egos. There are romances advertising “Beta” heroes, but fewer, and that still reinforces the stereotype. (For more on the term, with a surprising and delightful Star Trek connection, see this post at Romance Novels for Feminists).
But enough of the romance rabbit-trail. There are plenty of people in the real world who think in Alpha/Beta terms, even if they don’t go so far as to USE the terms. “Jock” and “nerd” are another way of putting it, usually with the addition of “cheerleader” — the world is divided up into women, guys who get women, and nerds who wish they could get women. Ugh! NO. That is not the way the world works, people. So, I’m not sure exactly what Moore was trying to accomplish here. The way he writes, it’s almost like Beta Males are a fantasy species with special powers and weaknesses and identifying characteristics. Maybe that’s the point, that they’re an imaginary construction, because I really can’t tell any major differences between Charlie and any other everyman hero. I was hoping the end would display why Moore made the stylistic choice, but it doesn’t really seem significant.
Allison asked, What do you make of the fact that the more unique characters (such as the emperor) are able to see things that most people can’t?
Hm. Several thoughts here… On the one hand, this is somewhat normal in the fantasy/sci-fi genres. Often it’s mentally ill characters who can see “reality,” which I find problematic. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, though. I get almost a more Shakespearean vibe, where it’s the fools and jesters who really understand. Everyone else is locked in their own personal narrative, their own series of monologues, but the jesters see all and know all.
There’s also the idea that these unique people have already seen a lot, so they’re more willing to accept what they see instead of rationalizing it away. For instance, the detective is pretty normal. I wouldn’t really call him a “unique” character, although he’s one of my favorites… But over years of seeing strange things happen, he’s learned to accept them. I figure the marginalized characters have seen a lot more strange things.
Plus, Christopher Moore is an absurdist writer, so he may just choose things because they’re incongruous!
Finally, Diana asked, What do you think your soul object would be, and why would it be that particular object?
For me, it would be a toy I’ve had since I was a kid. A carousel with little animals that move up and down. It’s about the size of a Christmas ornament, and may have been one at some point… It’s got a metal loop at the top. It’s too heavy to effectively decorate a Christmas tree, but that hasn’t stopped ornament-makers before! I’m pretty sure somebody gave it to me when I was little, but I don’t know who or why or when. I was just really attached to that little carousel. I remember worrying robbers would come to my house and steal it, so I would hide it in the back of my closet and only take it out to play with it! I was a weird kid. But it could totally be my soul object. I only wish I had a picture of it to show you… It’s still a box from moving, and I’m not sure which one, and I’m about to move again so I can’t exactly unpack them all.
If your soul was stored in an object, what object would it be? Comments and linky are open until July 4th.