Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Saturday, May 06, 2000

ex libris: sequins? what sequins?

Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore
Paperback: $5.50 at Amazon
Hardback: $16.10 at Barnes and Noble

OK, let's get that title out of the way right now.

Island? Yes. Two, in fact. More if you count all of Micronesia and Hawaii, but most of the action just takes place on the one island.

Sequins? Well .... no, not really. Skin, yes; sequins, no.

Love? Well ... eventually. I think.

Nun? No way, babycakes. Rather, a faux goddess. (And I think she might insist on "faux" and not false.)

It's an interesting little book, in its own way.

OK, I'm going to say this now, because I promised someone I would: reading Island of the Sequined Love Nun is like reading Carl Hiaasen on both speed AND acid. This is not the unreservedly good experience you might think it would be. (Of course, you have to have read Hiaasen's fiction for that to be meaningful, so for the Hiaasen impaired, let's say ... It's loopy and zany and there's a lot happening and you feel like he's working really hard to get it there.)

Tucker gulped. She'd faked him out of his shoes. "I'm sorry, Mary Jean. I'm..."
     She raised a hand and he shut up. "You know I don't like to use profanity or firearms, so please dn't push me, Tucker. A lady controls her anger."
     Mary Jean pulled the Lady Smith automatic out of her purse and leveled it at Tucker's bandaged crotch. Strangely, he noticed that Mary Jean had chipped a nail drawing the gun and for that, he realized, she really might kill him.
          --pages 15-16.

The plot ... well, OK. Tucker Case, a tall, strapping, stereotypically handsome pilot, works for a company which is not the Mary Kay Cosmetics company, OK? Despite the big pink Lear jets. Anyway, because Tucker never fails to follow his dick, no matter where it leads, he gets into this little accident. (I defy any man who reads the details of his accident not to wince and cross his legs at That Moment.) Seeing as the plane is in pieces, he gets fired, understandably. Through various intrigues and machinations on the part of humans, deities and fruitbats--and despite the intrusion of the odd typhoon--he winds up out on a Micronesian island, working for a doctor and his va-va-voom wife, who plays the role of the Sky Priestess for the natives. Tucker then uncovers various nefarious doings and has to decide what to do.

"You're Malkink's Vincent?"
     "The same. I gave the chief the original of that lighter."
     "You could have just said so. You didn't have to be so dramatic." Tuck was glad he was a little drunk. He didn't feel frightened. As strange as it all was, he felt safe. This guy--this thing, this spirit--had more or less saved his life at least twice, maybe three times.
     I got responsibilities, kid, and so do you."
          ---page 196

In case you were wondering. the above mentioned Vincent is a ghost. Or a god. Or something. It's not exactly clear, and it's not meant to be.

In some ways, with the use of ghosts and/or gods, talking (or not) fruitbats, the odd cannibal or two, and the primitive peoples in touch with nature (whether they want to be or not), Island comes across as a peculiarly American take on the magical realism novel. Even the ghosts are relentlessly practical about the whole thing.

"Of course," Vincent continued, "This is kinda turning into a religious experience for you, ain't it? Go with what you know, right? You let her run the show, you got nodecisions to make and no worries ever after. Not a worry in the world. You got my word on that. Although, if it was me, I'd check out her story to be safe [...]"
          ---page 264

Ultimately, Island is a sort of redemption novel. The main character gets into a mess, through his own actions and because he just isn't paying attention, and then gets to decide whether or not he'll literally be a hero.

The main difficulty I had was getting through a seriously overwritten first half of the book. (Structurally, there's a rather odd tense change from Chapter 2's present tense to the past tense for the rest of the book.) I mean, I started out reading normally, and then segued into speedreading. Thing is, normally I don't have to speed read; reading normally, I can polish off a 450 page novel in just a shade over two hours. If I'm really enjoying something, I usually have to figure out ways to slow myself down so that I can really enjoy it. Speedreading is reserved for those books where I want to find out what happens, but for one reason or another, it's just really intensely annoying.

Actually, you know, it turns out that if you can survive the seriously loopy first half, it settles down and gets interesting. It becomes a sort of ... really odd action/adventure story. (Well, I mean, it's still got the fruitbat, and the transvestite former prostitute cum navigator and the cannibal and the Sky Priestess and the saga of whether or not Tucker's penis will ever work again ... ) And it's interesting watching Tucker discover that he does have a conscience and trying to figure out what to do with it. Basically, what happens is that the plot and all its attendant hysterics settle down enough for you to really get involved with the main character. (About the same time he does himself, actually; it's kind of fun watching someone discover that they really do have depth--though, of course, that's usually accompanied by the painful discovery that they've been shallow.)

Basically, if you like Carl Hiaasen or seriously loopy and busy books, it's worth giving it a shot. Otherwise, give it a miss.

I know. A seriously lukewarm review to start things off. Them's the breaks, I guess.

Posted by iain at 10:48 PM in category