The convergence of Easter and April Fools’ Day is a rare event—the last time it happened was all the way back in 1956, and it won’t happen again until 2029. But this year, the calendar has worked its bizarre magic, giving us painted eggs and pranks on the same day. And all I can think about as I prepare myself for this odd double-holiday is a wonderful, subversive book by the wonderful, subversive Christopher Moore. It’s called Lamb, and it’s a moving satire about the life of Jesus Christ that’s also absolutely hilarious.
There is, perhaps, no more perfect book to read on an Easter Sunday that is also April Fool’s Day.
Christopher Moore might America’s closest answer to the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett of Great Britain. Like Pratchett, Moore is a master of satirist, but he wields the tool a bit differently; his cuts are less scalpel-sharp than Pratchett’s, but just as straight and true. His satire tends to be more personal than Pratchett, who delighted in lampooning the foibles of society as a whole. Moore’s more interested in the foolishness of individuals, masterfully exposing the absurdity of human nature and the way we form relationships. His works feel a touch more fenced in than the expansive lands of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but they are just as uproariously funny.
While his books don’t all take place in a shared world, Moore is a fan of recurring characters. It’s a delight to spot them sliding into a story with a wink and a nudge. He’s written about everything from vampires in San Francisco, to Shakespearean fools trying to keep their heads above water, to the stupidest Christmas angel on a mission to save people from zombies. There is a bonkers brand of whimsy in his writing, and his books never go quite where you think they will from the setup. Take his recent Sacre Bleu: ostensibly a goof about Impressionist French painters, it hides moments and images so beautiful and poignant, they made me weep—and then Toulouse-Lautrec would wander in and make a sex joke. Moore has an unparalleled ability to balance comedy and tragedy, which brings us back to Lamb, the story of Jesus Christ and his best friend, Biff.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is a book that, despite the title and subject matter, is not really about religion. You won’t find it in the theology section of your local Barnes & Noble. It’s just a story about a nice guy who tried to do good things and the messy, loud best friend who came along for the ride.
Jesus goes by his childhood nickname Josh and is burdened by his cosmic importance. Biff, who Josh has known since childhood, tags along to keep an eye on him. Together they travel the ancient world, encountering everyone from the Buddha to Japanese ninjas, and experiencing madcap adventures. In one memorable chapter, Josh gets drunk and cuddles a rabbit, proclaiming how much he loves bunnies and how he wants them to show up whenever he is having a bad day. If you have a better explanation for Easter, I am all ears (ears).
While in China, Josh eats Chinese food on his birthday and declares it to be the finest food in the world, and determines to eat it every December 25th. It’s a throwaway gag, but speaks so much to the nuance of the novel’s humor. I’m the furthest person from devout, but I spent a lot of my childhood in Catholic schools, and this book made more sense to me than anything I learned there.
Lamb’s humor is blistering and often absurd. The meat of the plot is concerned with a search for the three Wise Men who attended Josh’s birth. While hunting them down, Josh and Biff learn kung fu, create the art of sarcasm, discover the miracle of coffee, and stumble upon the secrets of alchemy. Biff is a troublemaker, but also acts as an anchor, keeping Josh from becoming too serious or falling into melancholy. Their antics made me laugh so hard, I would often have to pause to catch my breath.
The heart at the center of Lamb is humanity: though perhaps divine, Josh is also deeply human, and deeply flawed, yet he faces his destiny with grim determination, while Biff does everything in his power to stop the inevitable from happening. They are foils in a consideration of everything from faith and belief, to what it means to be human. It’s a book that explores the nature of religion and tries to figure out how, despite our differences, we can all do goodfor our own reasons. Plus, you know, there are the ninjas.
If you haven’t read Christopher Moore, has a spectacular new book coming out later in April called Noir, a send-up that turns hard-boiled, Sam Spade-style “a beautiful dame walked into my smokey bar and she was nothing but trouble” crime novels completely on their fedora-clad heads via (you…didn’t guess it) a very slight alien invasion. It’s bonkers in the best of ways.
But why wait until then? This is the perfect weekend to dive into the hilarious, absurd, and wonderful works of Christopher Moore, and with one of his very best books. Grab Lamb in one hand while you stuff your face with marshmallow bunnies and chocolate eggs with the other (or maybe as you unwind from seder). You definitely don’t want to wait until 2029 for the next Easter/April Fool’s Day double feature!
What’s your favorite funny fantasy or science fiction novel?