Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Book of Eli--NOT

Every now and then, I don't get what I think I'll get. The Book of Eli by Sam Moffie is one of those mistakes. I thought I was getting the book version of the movie that has just come out (yes, we ordered the movie), but it turns out to be entirely different. A reviewer on Amazon suggests that Moffie hurried this book to press to take advantage of the movie release. I don't know about that, but I'm definitely feeling snookered.

The book is a knock-off of The Shack. Were I as crude as Mr. Moffie's protagonist, I would call it a knock-up of that inspirational tale. Eli, the hero, is a good man, almost perfect except for one flaw that proves to be fatal--literally. There are many clinical terms for Eli's sin: copulation, intercourse, sexual union, but Eli is a plain-spoken man. He loves to screw.

This bit of slang is carried throughout the book, nothing unusual in 2010 novels, but somewhat startling in a book that pretends to inspiration. Eli reaches new pinnacles of sensation in a liaison with his favorite adulterous partner and cries out ecstatically, "God! God!!" And he gets God. He dies, goes to heaven and his tutelage begins.

Groucho Marx is his guiding spirit as he visits Sigmund Freud with questions about sexuality, Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, Madelyn Murray O'Hare, Ayn Rand, and his own mother. Groucho is the excuse for several one-liners and provides the secondary theme of the novel. Sex first, jokes next. There are some truly lame Jewish jokes. After a time, Eli's fixation on sex becomes a joke, a vaudevillian schtick that even Eli eventually finds tiresome.

What is interesting about the book is that, for all its irreverence, its explicit language, its extreme secular tone, it seems authentic. Eli is no saint. He's a regular guy, a sinner like most of us, with an obsession with sex that is very honest, but not only does he have an innate god-sense, he is also accepted by a patient creator. It isn't what he is, but what he will become that is the interest of heaven. God creates, after all. Moffie's thesis seems to be that the "good guys" didn't succeed, and now it's time for a regular guy to try.

It's a quick read. I read it in one sitting and found it better than I had anticipated. This is a book that many readers will find offensive, but the reader looking for a secular slant on spiritual living will find this book more palatable than more traditional inspirational writing. The message is neither Christian nor Jewish nor representative of any other faith tradition, but it is found in most faith traditions. We are here to look after one another. We can't do that if we are cheating or exploiting those around us. This is what Eli must learn and what, in a racy, unconventional way, Moffie tries to teach us.

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