Book Review 02: What do you do when the gods mess with your life?

I just finished Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore. And now, I can get back to chronology.

You see, I started reading Moore’s books out of order. My first conquest was Blood Sucking Fiends, which is a funny vampire story. I’ve read probably an unhealthy number of vampire books and stories so this should come as no surprise. After that, I jumped around a bit.

The problem was that I read the books out of order. There’s no continuity involved, but there is a little voice in the back of my head that screamed “He didn’t write that next! What are you doing you lunatic?!”

But now, I have read books one through four and that voice can go back to freaking out about less significant things.

Which brings me to Coyote Blue.

It’s the story of Samson Hunts Alone, a Crow Indian who flees the Montana Crow Reservation in his early teens, and becomes Sam Hunter, a successful California insurance agent. Suddenly his life is turned upside down by the appearance of Old Man Coyote, the trickster god of the Crow tradition. The adventures that follow deal with issues of love, identity, loyalty, family, faith, death, trust, tradition, and what is ultimately means to come to turns with one’s past, and accept or reject one’s destiny.

The trickster god of the story is a shape-shifting bundle of trouble that smokes, drinks, and has sex with anything that moves. But he is here to teach Sam a lesson.

Moore appears to have done his research. In the acknowledgements, he thanks the people who helped him learn about the Crow and their traditions. In his author’s note, he says:

So, I set about getting to know Coyote, spending a lot of time in folklore libraries and a month or so living on the Crow reservation, talking to people who never seem to be able to conceal a smile when they mentioned Old Man Coyote. I came away not only feeling that Coyote was a viable presence in the world, but that he could carry a book with the same goofy elegance with which he’d brought civilization to the Plains Tribes (if only so he could mess with them).

I don’t have the expertise to address the veracity of Moore’s descriptions of Crow traditions and history, so I will take his word for it.

Moore’s writing has gotten better over time. The writing and characters are much tighter than they were in Practical Demon Keeping (PDK). He has a better sense of pace, and his action scenes are tighter. In PDK, the final climactic scene was a bit of a mess. I had to read it a couple times to figure out just what was going on. In this book, the writing is clearer, and the action progresses more smoothing. That’s not to say it’s predictable; the story is full of surprises. When a lot of things happen at once, though, it’s much easier to follow.

There are some flaws, though no major ones. Moore introduces Egyptian mythology at one point, but it’s a bit of a throw away. It was a fascinating element, which Moore really didn’t explore. It was a missed opportunity. He could have taken the story and culture to an even bigger level. Barring that, he could easily have dropped the Egyptian material altogether and it wouldn’t have impacted the story.

I was also disappointed in the role the MF character played. Moore spent some time developing the character and then did very little with him. MF had a bunch of pages, and there was some great character stuff, but Moore didn’t give him enough to do in the plot. He also could have done more with MF’s actually family than he did, rather than just implying it. It was an opportunity to add even more depth to the book and further flesh out the story and the universe.

There is also a chapter about Old Man Coyote in a casino that seems gratuitous. It doesn’t really advance the plot. There’s some neat character stuff in there, but it really could have been handled in another way. After reading a chapter in a book, I like to feel I’ve gone forward with the story. I didn’t get that from this chapter.

Despite those concerns, there are still some great things in the book. The plot moves along quickly and has plenty of unexpected turns. There is even a reference to Augustus Brine, a main character from PDK, which I probably would have missed if I hadn’t just finished reading PDK.

Like everything else Moore writes, Coyote Blue is bubbling over with absurdity, weirdness, wonderful imagery, and great lines. Jokes are both laugh out loud funny, and just weirdly bent. Moore has great fun with language, secondary character development, and strange juxtapositions.

I recommend it.

One of my favorite passages comes from the fat, white salesman in the big blue car on page 75.

If they got what they wanted, how come they ain’t feeling it? How come they still feel empty? Well, son, between you and me, there ain’t no contentment, no satisfaction, this side of the grave. You ain’t never going to be as pretty or as rich as you want to be. No one ever has. No one ever will. Folks don’t know that, though. Folks think that there’s an answer to that scary feeling that keeps riding them no matter what they do.

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