My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
The premise is straightforward: Mr. Scratch—better, and more frequently, known as the Devil—has just been shot up a bunch during a filming of his hit reality show, soooo how did he get there?
Three seemingly unrelated threads answer this question—a present-day (2005), a 1960s trio, and then The Past, which includes pre-creation, Egypt and Rome, colonial/mercantile times, and the Civil War, and do so in a not-dissatisfying way, even though the 1960s thread splits further as the humans’ wishes take them down separate paths.
Poore connects the chapters with common imagery—e.g. lightning to lightning—and consistently develops the Devil’s point of view, so even though the narrative jumps, it’s not particularly jarring. I’ve seen it done worse, and not much better. There is a steady progression as we learn about the motives behind the Devil’s unfailingly chaotic personality and strangely optimistic outlook for humanity. He makes the same mistakes each time, but this doesn’t become predictable because his mistakes are, well, chaotic.
This story is told with a limited third-person narrator. I found it somewhat uneven, although I think it was mostly intentional. For one, there are some really fantastic descriptions, but given that the book is largely comedic, the writing tends utilitarian, so while I wouldn’t expect Bradburyesque narrative all the way through, it stuck out when it happened. I also noticed he tries to—on a shallow, not wholly irritating level—add something of the time to his voice (so the 1800s are more formal than the 1960s, dude), and I think that’s the other source of the inconsistency.
Amazon compares this novel to the works of Christopher Moore, and a few other authors. I get the comparison to the wacky goings-on at Pine Cove, etc., but one huge difference I noticed was the amount of research visible in the book. Moore goes a long distance—it’s absolutely fantastic—while the narrative here came off more as “Hollywood history” (pop culture, if you’d rather); the Native Americans have deep forests, everyone we meet in the 1960s is on drugs, Rome is on fire, etc. I’m exaggerating a little, but he is, too. It’s not clear whether or not the society is intentionally set up as a near-parody of reality; again, it’s comedic, so there’s no reason to be super precise, but it is one of the first things I look for when I’m told to compare to Moore. I don’t think more accuracy when he’s not deliberately shifting the course of history would have been a bad thing, though.
And I did recently read Guns, Germs and Steel, and it’s very factual, so there.
Of course, it is quite irreverent about Judeo-Christian mythology. Poore ends up writing his own creation story, and it’s not a very nice one, especially when it comes to God. It’s not totally negative or anything, but the devout would not be pleased.
My main issue with this book is when the social commentary stops being a subtle undercurrent and turns into the Devil’s internal monologue. Poore’s no Ayn Rand, but it still came off as heavy-handed, given how clear these lessons are from the events. I think others will find those bits more appealing—look, the Devil is growing up! —but I’m not, in general, a fan of anything less than subtle when it comes to this topic. I don’t like being told what to think, okay. (See: my issues with metafiction.)
Despite the rough patches, this is not a bad debut novel. It’s humorous, dirty, sad, and even occasionally profound. The characters aren’t badly established, and Poore’s rendition of the Devil is likeable but not too apologetic; he’s more of a trickster-archetype here, someone whose good intentions go terribly awry either because he fails to think things through, or because he blatantly mucks them up by being distracted by, for instance, Pilgrim boobs. Much is made of the