Charlie Asher owns and operates a second hand thrift shop in San Francisco, a city that possesses the perfect balance of darkness and light, making it one of the easiest places on Earth to get lost. A notion that Charlie has perhaps taken a little too literally throughout the course of his life. Charlie is a self-professed beta male, and if he has resigned himself to this lowly distinction, then you can imagine how he must be perceived by the others that he comes across. A man with eyes cast down, slowly plodding his way through the rain-stricken streets, passing the occupied cafe patios strategically placed on every street corner. Described by some as a perfect setting for a horror story, San Francisco serves as a horrifically-beautiful backdrop for Christopher Moore’s devilish novel A Dirty Mind.
The early stages of the novel conjured up thoughts in me of David Lynch’s Eraserhead where Charlie envisions everything that could possibly go wrong as his wife gives birth to their daughter Sophie and his thoughts manifest themselves into some sort of wailing alien creature. Being the paranoid man that he is, he sees the newborn as his greatest fear realized, while it is his wife’s greatest joy. Like at many points in his life, Charlie’s imagination has proved itself once again to be his greatest curse, which will soon make him question; did I really just see what I think I just saw? Without truly knowing it, due to the cloud that only a heavy dose of ambien can present, he witnesses a seven foot black man dressed in minty green golf attire ostensibly knocking at his wife Rachel’s death’s door and sucking the life right out of her. Unbeknownst to him, Charlie Asher has become one of death’s humble lackeys, whether he likes it or not, and he will have to do it alone after losing his base, his centre, his everything. But hey being an merchant of death and grieving your one and only love is a long drawn-out process to undertake.
” ‘I’m still sure I have questions. Can I call you?’ ‘No,’ said the mint one. ‘Okay, then, I’m going now,’ Charlie said, not really moving. ‘Completely at the mercy of forces of the Underworld and stuff.’ ‘You take care,’ said Minty Fresh. ‘No idea what the hell I’m doing,’ Charlie went on, taking tentative baby steps toward the door. ‘The weight of all of humanity on my shoulders.’ ‘Yeah, make sure you stretch in the morning,’ said the big man.”
The job of a grim reaper is undoubtedly a dirty one, it will become easier once Charlie quits with the beta male inward conversations, outward bitching and moaning and finally accepting his new responsibilities. His number one priority is in the soul vessel procurement business which he understands glows red but can take any shape (a beloved Sarah McLachlan CD), any form (an immense squash blossom necklace), or any size (DD implanted breasts affixed on a beautifully shaped blonde twenty-something). This job may be difficult at times but it also offers a bevy of surprises. I was going to say endless possibilities but we’re talking about beta males, the majority should already know the ending, if not, think head hung low, gallon of ice cream, tears flowing into their caramel swirl that makes them think they’ve offered a new gastronomic spin on salted caramel which gives them hope and affirmation, that is until the tummy ache and brain freeze hits.
Charlie is told he is an agent of karma providing souls to the needy, but he must be a servant of destiny in keeping lightness in the world and order in the streets or be at risk of having the forces of darkness creep from below, takeover the world, and leave humanity as you know it in ruins. If a man’s going to save the world he’s going to need more than a sword cane, he’s going to need a babysitter. He gets help from his androgynous, naturally beautiful homosexual sister Jane, his teenage emo-inspired cashier at the thrift store, a lonely former police detective who spends his time perusing various foreign dating sites while working in the second hand store, and many other secondary characters.
” ‘But she was going to put her claw through your brain, right?’ ‘Yeah, she said she was, but you know something, I think there was some chemistry there.’ ‘You don’t think it was just that she had your crank in her hand at the time, because that can cloud a guy’s judgment.’ ‘Yeah, there’s that, but still, you have to think, of all the Death Merchants in all of the cities on the planet, she chose me to share the death wank. I think she had a thing for me.’ ‘Well, you’re in the City of Two Bridges,’ said Vern, brushing a little maple glaze from the corner of his mouth. ‘That’s where it’s supposed to happen.’ “
Parenthood, much like being a death merchant are tasks that he is learning on the fly, the reality of playing death and the role of being a father has never made him feel more alive. In performing his duties of death, his daughter Sophie has assumed her role as second fiddle thanks to a collection of older Russian and Chinese ladies occupying Charlie’s building. Charlie primarily focuses his attention on the names that mysteriously appear on his date book and a timeline to take action in order to save the world. The search will then be on for vessels belonging to the dead person walking and to take it so the souls of the dead so they can live on and enrich the body that they will then inhabit. Sounds easy right? Well what you don’t realize is that evil spirits fly in the sky ready to peck your eyes out, providing a distraction for you from your daily duties. Lurking below in the city’s sewerage system are also succubus shadowy figures and other dark minions of destruction whispering threats of violence and sexual misconduct against you, your young daughter, and your two hundred pound dogs as well.
A resource that pulls double-duty in handling the process of death and the many possibilities that can come afterwards while also serving as a guidebook to handling life and all the good, bad, happy, and sad that comes your way. I can’t say I hated this book but I can say that I was often disinterested. I didn’t look forward to picking it up and if it wasn’t for my power being off for a few hours I probably wouldn’t have finished it. The writing was not offensive so there’s no inherent bias against it, it just wasn’t particularly funny which it was marketed to be. If I can take anything away from this book is that it had some heartfelt moments that broke through the horrible attempts at humor and one-dimensional characters. To me it’s one of those ‘who cares’ type of novels, but it will certainly have an audience.
” ‘That child has a speech disorder, Charlie. You should have her looked at.’ ‘A speech disorder! A speech disorder! A cute lisp is a speech disorder. My daughter kills people with the word kitty. I had to keep my hand over her mouth all the way home. There’s probably video somewhere. People thought I was one of those people who beats their kid in department stores.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Charlie, people love the parents who beat their kids in department stores. It’s the ones who just let their kids wreak havoc that everybody hates.’ “