19 December 2007

"Where are my dinosaurs?" she shrieked. "I can't feel my dinosaurs!" - "Daughter Earth"

Bible Stories for Adults

James Morrow
Harvest Books, 1996

Morrow does indeed revisit some classic tales from the Hebrew scriptures, but the "Bible stories" he retells here involve the sacred (as in "sacred cow") more generally. In his sights are such unassailables as God, the Unknown Soldier, Darwin's theory, and masculinity itself. Given that these stories, according to the title, are for "adults," one should not be surprised to be thrilled, shocked, and even offended by some of the author's jibes, yet each shot he takes is precisely aimed and well-deserved. Every story in this book was entertaining; several were masterfully crafted thought-provoking works suitable for extended rumination and discussion.

In the first story, Nebula-winning "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge," we observe along with our prostitute protagonist that, "When I destroyed my unwanted children, it was murder. When Yahweh did the same, it was eugenics." Morrow simply applies a single moral standard to the old tale of Noah and the Ark, to wicked effect. "Known but to God and Wilbur Hines" tells the story of a murderous, racist deserter who, through a twist of fate, enjoys a hero's burial and anonymous immortality in Arlington.

"Bible Stories for Adults, No. 20: The Tower" inverts the traditional telling of the Tower of Babel legend, so that instead of confusing the human race with a gibber of languages, God trips up humanity by allowing them to communicate "without the benefit of semantic doubt." "So My plan is working. Half the planet is now a graduate seminar, the other half a battleground." Morrow likewise turns the entire Intelligent Design debacle on its head in "Spelling God with the Wrong Blocks," a story in which science missionaries confront a race of androids who insist that they originated through natural selection, when in fact they were created as an experiment by Harvard sociobiologists. When the science missionaries try to explain the androids' error, they are tried as heretics for speaking against the Two Testaments...of Darwin, of course.

Morrow concludes the collection with the fantastic "Arms and a Woman." This story explores the life of Helen, lover of Paris and wife of Menelaus. When she discovers that the Greeks and Trojans have been fighting for a decade over her, she tries to win the peace by going back to her husband. But she has aged, and is now slightly less than launching-a-thousand-ships-beautiful, so the men don't want to hear it. That, and they really like the glory that comes from the battle. It turns out that Helen's abduction by Paris was really just an excuse. As the council of Greeks and Trojans explains to Helen, if they can make ten years of warfare over a single woman look rational, then men could make war over just about anything, and she wants to spoil all that fun. In Morrow's hands, the gentle anti-heroism of the feminine is lauded while the foundational epic of Western civilization is revealed as a work of a banal, baleful masculinity that has provided the rationale for millennia of braggadocio and pee-pee waving. Brilliant!

(This review was originally written on July 21, 2006.)

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