The Serpent of Venice: A Novel by Christopher Moore
Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello, Antonio, the titular merchant of Venice, and Monstressor Brabantio from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” walk into a bar….
It’s a joke but it’s quite a complicated one in the latest historical farce from Moore (Sacre Bleu, 2012, etc.). In this follow-up to Fool (2009), Moore brings back Pocket of Dog Snogging, his prodigious companion, Drool, and pet monkey Jeff for another round of satirizing the Bard of Avon by way of the Marx Brothers. After trouncing King Lear, Moore has decided a mashup is in order, reconciling its multiple inspirations to a mythical Venice circa 1299. Pocket starts his new adventure poorly, having been walled into Poe’s fictional prison by Brabantio, where he’s reduced to talking to the Chorus (there’s always a bloody chorus). “I am not bloody mad, you berk,” he exclaims, to which the Chorus replies, “You’re shouting at a disembodied voice in the dark.” Bid by his queen, Cordelia, to travel to the sunken kingdom of Venice to help the Moor, Othello, and stop a conspiracy forged in greed from prosecuting a crusade, Pocket fumbles his way through a complicated adventure buoyed by Moore’s half-cocked Shakespearean dialogue, puerile humor and ceaseless banter. The setting helps the author’s cause, lending a rich historical backdrop that includes trade disputes, political intrigue and Shakespearean spectacle. Readers who are steeped in Shakespeare and aren’t too sensitive will enjoy outrageous lines like, “Cry havoc, and let slip the trousers of most outrageous bonkilation!” Purists are better advised to stick with safer adaptations, where they’re less likely to encounter Marco Polo lollygagging in a Venetian prison, the prodigious use of perennial Moore vulgarities (“Fuckstockings!”) or our hero shagging a dragon. It is, as the author himself calls it, an abomination, but fans who enjoyed the rollicking play within a play of Fool or the historical whimsy of Sacre Bleu will find many of the same gifts here.
Fool’s gold, replete with junk jokes, from one of America’s most original humorists.
Walking on Water: A Novel (The Walk) by Richard Paul Evans
The fifth volume in the Walk series brings it to a pedestrian close.
Followers of the series know that Alan Christoffersen is walking across America to mend his broken heart after his wife’s death. Starting in Seattle, his goal is Key West. When he reaches Jacksonville, Florida, news arrives of a dire family emergency, so he flies home to deal with it. Afterward, he returns to his walk, during which he mulls over the meaning of life and occasionally trades wisdom with strangers. One of them says Christoffersen is “like most of humanity, looking for something that’s ultimately not worth finding.” But Christoffersen disagrees. He's looking for hope. This last leg of his journey is about 500 miles of straight line, which pretty much describes the plot. Every day he walks 20 miles, give or take a few, and every day he says what he eats and whom he meets. Fine. This is a journal, after all. But there are no surprises, mysteries, twists, setbacks or disasters except for the one beginning the tale. He deeply misses his wife, of course, and is now in love with a woman he’s never kissed and who's engaged to marry another man. Meanwhile, he claims to be “not wired for celibacy,” yet he calmly rebuffs the advances of two lusty sirens in a bar without even reporting a tingle below the belt. From his journal entries, Christoffersen appears to be a man without fault. No, he doesn’t compare himself to Jesus, but the metaphor is clear. After a rain, he realizes he's “walking on water,” but it’s no Sea of Galilee. Anyone can walk on water this shallow.
Readers of the first four volumes will enjoy this conclusion. Others who are interested should read these feel-good books in sequence, starting with The Walk.
Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Penn State Romance Studies) by John Paul Stevens
The former Supreme Court justice proposes constitutional changes to restore the old republic.
Provocative only begins to describe Stevens’ (Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir, 2011, etc.) program. Perhaps the most controversial is the constitutional amendment that, after surveying the history of amendments generally, he saves for last—namely, to rewrite the Second Amendment so that it indisputably speaks to the intention of the Founders: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.” The italics are Stevens’—the strongest reaction to this proposed change is sure to come from devoted NRA members. In fact, that change would likely spell political suicide if forwarded by a sitting elected legislator, but Stevens, retired from the bench for several years, is above the fray. He can therefore safely advance another likely nonstarter, given the prevailing circumstances: another amendment, this one prohibiting partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts, which allowed the Democrats to win the plurality of votes but the Republicans to control the House in the last election. Though clearly of blue-state leanings, Stevens is evenhanded: He no more approves of Democratic gerrymandering than Republican. The author’s prose is sometimes lawyerly, but more often, it is plain and to the point: “[T]here is no reason why partisans should be permitted to draw lines that have no justification other than enhancing their own power.” That plain talk extends to his arguments for limiting money given to those in power—overturning Citizens United in the bargain—and controlling states-rightist impulses to nullify federal authority and declare sovereign immunity.
A refreshing set of opinions. One wishes that other retired justices would speak their minds so clearly, providing well-crafted arguments for others to take up.