Book Review 40: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

It's taken me a while to write this review for Christopher Moore's, "Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove." I have mixed feeling on this book. I'm glad I am finally wrapping up this review, because the more I think about this book, the less I like it. And that's a shame because I did enjoy it and the writing is entertaining.

The paragraphs are great and passages are well-written. Christopher Moore's distinctive styles is the central elements of the text. And the book is worth reading for that reason alone. It is filled with laugh out loud opportunities.

While the premise is interesting, the story itself limps along. It's not as tightly written as other Moore novels, and many of the main characters seem barely sketched out. They aren't as deeply developed as I would like, and I often find my self not caring about them.

In short, while this book is okay, there are other Christopher Moore novels that are better. "Island of the Sequined Love Nun," "Blood Sucking Fiends," and "Fluke" are all more compelling, and are better places to start reading Moore.

This book takes us back to Pine Cove, CA. Moore originally took us to this town in his first book, "Practical Demon Keeping." This is not a sequel, though some of the characters do return. Moore references the earlier stpry towards the end of this one.

Val was wishing she had a video recorder to preserve the gargantuan lie that Mavis Sand and Howard Phillips had been telling over the last hour. According to them, ten years ago the village of Pine Cove had been visited by a demon from hell, and only through the combined effort of a handful of drunks were they able to banish the demon whence it came. It was a magnificent delusion, and Val thought that she could at least get an academic paper on shared psychosis out of it.

Page 247

Val is the town psychiatrist and decides to do an experiment with the town. After the death of one of her patients, Val grows concerned with the side effects on physchiatric medications, such as anti-depressants. She conspires with the local pharmacist to switch everyone's presciptions to placebos, allowing the underlying conditions and withdrawal symptoms to assert them selves.

Meanwhile, town constable Theophilus Crowe begins looking into the death of Val's patient. They meet for the first time during the investigation, and one of the challenges of small-town living becomes apparent.

The doorbell rang, Westminster chimes. Val crossed the living room to the marble foyer. A thin tall figure was refracted through the door's beveled glass panels: Theophilus Crowe. Val had never met him, but she knew of him. Three of his ex-girlfriends were her patients. She Opened the door.

Page 23
While the humans deal with their challenges, an giant, ancient creature visits the town.

The Sea Beast swam on. During his journey he had eaten a basking shark, a few dolphins, and several hundred turns. His focus had changed from food to sex. As he approached the California coast, the radioactive scent began to diminish to almost nothing. The leak at the power plant had been discovered and fixed. He found himself less than a mile offshore with a belly full of shark—and no memory of why he'd left his volcanic nest. But there was a buzz reaching his predator's senses from shore, the listless resolve of prey that has given up: depression. Warm-blooded food. Dolphins and whales sent off the same signal sometimes. A large school of food was just asking to be eaten, right near the edge of the sea. He stopped out past the surf line and came to the surface in the middle of a kelp bed, his massive head breaking though strands of kelp like a zombie pickup truck breaking sod as it rises from the grave.

Page 47
I like this passage for a few reasons. It's sets up the creature and gives is a sense of its motives. It introduces its scale. And the idea of a "zombie pickup truck" is both absurd and clear at the same time.

The most well-defined characters in this book are the non-human ones. In addition to the sea monster, Moore takes us inside the head of Skinner, the energetic dog belonging to a biologist. Skinner's motivations are quite simple.

Skinner wagged his tail and made a beeline for the truck. About time, he thought. You need to get away from the shore, Food Guy, right now.

Page 51
Skinner watched all this with heightened interest, tentatively wagging his tail between Theo's tirades, hoping in his heart of hearts that he would get a ride in that big red truck. Even dogs harbor secret agendas.

Page 187
Skinner is my favorite character in the book. His enthusiasm and simple world view in infectious. And his motivations are easy to understand. He doesn't have much of a role in the story, but helps tell us more about the sea monster. He speaks for all the animals in the community when he wants his owner, "Food Guy," to leave the shore. Skinner, like all the animals, knows the sea monster is here, and knows that he should be somewhere else.

Moore doesn't often write about happy people, especailly in this book. He has a way of cutting into someone's despair.

For thirty years she had been a teacher in the decaying and increasingly dangerous Los Angeles Unified School District, teaching eighth graders the difference between acrylics and oils, a brush and a pallet knife, Dali and Degas, and using her job and her marriage as a justification for never producing any art herself.

Page 38

The daytime regulars at the end of the bar had snapped out of their malaise to have a laugh at Catfish. There's nothing quite so satisfying to the desperate as having someone to look down on.

Page 249

She found herself building a resentment for Gabe that was usually reserved for relationships that were years old.

Page 195
The sea monster comes ashore, tries to have sex with a fuel truck, while the towns people begin to "self medicate" while the bar owner hires a blues player to drum up business, and the town cop tries to deal with his own demons -- and we're off to the races so the zaniness can ensue.

In some respects, the book is about how people deal with things they are ashamed of, whether it's their history, their desires, their substance abuse, their misplaced integrity, or the life they live in general.

The undercurrent of shame runs throughout the book, but Moore never really explores it. It's possible he didn't realize he we writing so much about it. Had he exploited that theme more, the book might have been more compelling.

As it is, character motivations are not always clear. I couldn't understand why one character chose to protect some people from the sea monster, but not others.

The plot bumps along fairly well, and Moore ties up all the loose ends as the novel closes. Despite a great premise and setup, though, the story remains flat.

And that's why I have a hard time recommending this book. The story has a great premise, and there is a foundation for a some great characters, but the only thing really holding the book together is clever writing.

If you're a Moore fan, you have to read, "The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove." If you're not already a Moore fan, start with some of his other work.


Jen said...

This was not one of my favorites of his but still worth the read. It is a good idea to read it if you plan on reading The Stupidest Angel which reunites everyone and then some.

Cromely said...

@Jen: I'm looking forward to reading Stupidest Angel. I'll probably get there in a couple months. I heard the bat from Love Nun makes an appearance.