“The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – The Book of Job, 1: 21
“That’s not fair! You can’t give and then take! Indian giver!” – John Wayne
Alexander Hergensheimer is an Evangelical tourist in a world sort-of-like-ours-but-not-quite. Indulging in a sinful bet, Alex walks through the fire (that most pagan of rituals) during a Polynesian cruise vacation – and emerges on the other side of the fire-walk as Alec Graham, in the first of a series of Swiftian alternate universes that will test- and shatter- his deeply held religious convictions.
Robert A. Heinlein’s “Job” (subtitled “A C0medy of Justice”) is an irreverent take on the homonymous Biblical book, as well as Dante Allighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Alec wanders through bizarre, hellish locations, (like Kansas and Mexico), always accompanied by Margarethe, a comely Norse maiden that Heinlein has extracted from a Danish Playboy edition (she’s also as flat as a center-fold.)
The occasionally humorous (but rarely hilarious) premise is intriguing: rather, I should say one is intrigued to find out what the premise IS, since “Job” meanders so much that it takes a good while for Heinlein to reveal his intentions. It’s as if Dante, having lost his way in the woods, wandered through two dozen cantos before actually encountering the doorway to Hell.
Badly structured story-telling and didactic digressions are typical of late Heinlein. What matters is that Alex/ Alec eventually does get to Hell – and Heaven – and he discovers that neither are as advertised in the brochure.
Whenever I read books that mock the absurdities of religion, my first thought is dismissive, as in: “That’s an easy target!” My second thought is: “Well… It’s not SUCH an easy target. ‘Easy targets’ go down easy.” The sad irony is that, as someone who essentially agrees with Heinlein, there is little for me to do with “Job” other than nod in bored agreement. This is a book to be read by someone who MIGHT learn something from (or get offended by) its take-down of theology… otherwise what’s the point?
The same goes for Robert Kirkman’s “Battle Pope.” It was recommended by a friend, a Catholic, who was positively giddy, like she’d dipped in the collection basket mid-mass. My friend explained the appeal: “It’s about the POPE, but he, like, cusses, and kicks demon ass, and smokes cigars!”
The people who most enjoy irreverence are people who are reverent. To find something transgressive, first you have to subscribe to the principle being punctured. Farting only becomes funny once we’re taught it’s forbidden.
I failed to find “Battle Pope” funny because I don’t believe the Pope is anything other than an old man deemed harmless enough for appointment to a symbolic post in a corporation sustained by massive superstition. In short, it didn’t work precisely because I don’t find the premise offensive. You’ll be surprised how often “funny” and “offensive” work well in tandem. Similarly, despite the claims of children who write lucrative best-sellers, I don’t believe Heaven is real, so I don’t find it hilarious when Heinlein makes Heaven out to be a bore. But of course! What else COULD it be?
RATING: “Job” GOOD ENOUGH, “Battle Pope”- SHRUG. But “Job” HAS made me nostalgic for Heinlein’s sci-fi classics.