Towing Jehovah by James Morrow

Towing Jehovah, at first blush, appeared to be a great fit for me for reading material.  God’s dead, a failed oil-tanker captain is charged with moving His body to the Arctic to give Him a proper resting place, and antics ensue.  Unfortunately, Morrow’s telling of this promising story lacks a solid core.  The reader can sift through without finding much that will enlighten or entertain, which disappointed me greatly.

First, though, the positives, for the book does have some.  Morrow’s characters are often entertainingly funny, whether they mean to be or not.  I enjoyed a lot of the individual scenes simply because they are constructed to be awkwardly humorous.

Some of the character development is also pretty good.  Anthony Van Horne, the aforementioned captain, grows throughout the book from a washed-up, beaten-down character to one who is in control of himself and his situation.  This is a gentle process, and it was almost surprising toward the end, when Anthony behaves like one hell of a good ship captain.

Unfortunately, a lot of the other characters are basically empty shells in which Morrow can pour his preconceived notions of how certain people should act.  An atheist feminist, Cassie, is incensed that God exists and was a man.  She arranges for the body to be sunk into the ocean, so that … the world wouldn’t know that God once existed and was a man.

I’ll be honest.  The entire thread in the book that places atheists in an antagonistic position regarding the big dead body in the water is a little confusing.  There is one member of the atheist group who insists that they should study the body, which is summarily dismissed for the much more rational decision to bomb the corpse using World War II reenactment planes.

In fact, besides Anthony (and Cassie, once she’s in a relationship), the only character who appears to be a rational and admirable person is Thomas Ockham, a Jesuit the Church sent along on the voyage.  He’s the voice of reason and basically can’t do wrong.  Don’t misunderstand me — I think that Catholic monks are just as likely as anyone else to behave in an admirable way.  It was just irksome to me that he was the only one who appeared to have no issues with temptation, sin, or to suffer major ill effects from the body of God.

This obviously isn’t true for the rest of the crew, a good portion of which mutiny and go wild, Roman-style, complete with gladiatorial-style brawling.  I seriously doubt that most people’s reactions to a  gigantic dead deity would be to completely rebel against common morality and revel in debauchery.  Maybe that’s just my optimism coming out, but I seriously don’t think that most people think enough about God and His impact on their behavior for His death to alter said behavior too much.

There was one other part of the book that I just couldn’t get my head past.  It’s a personal thing, but, for those of you who have read Stranger in a Strange Land, it’s the same reason I don’t like that book, either.  Well, one of the reasons.

Maybe there’s just something about me and fiction involving boats.  I know that I didn’t particularly like Island in the Sea of Time, and that heavily featured a boat.  It’s probably a good thing, then, that I’ve never even attempted Moby-Dick; I’d probably pan it.  Towing Jehovah had its charming moments.  They just weren’t charming enough.

Rating: 2/5.

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Filed under 2/5, Book review, Fiction, Mixed

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