My book club recently read Lamb – The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. I was excited for this one for two reasons. One; most of what we read last year was about death and darkness, so a funny book was a nice change. Two; I’ve read a few other things by Christopher Moore and I think he’s hilarious. His book, A Dirty Job, was one of the most entertaining times with paper and ink I’ve ever had.
**SPOLERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT**
The book begins with the angel, Raziel, cleaning out his closet, organizing his halos, then being interrupted with orders to go “Dirt-side” for a special assignment. That assignment? To resurrect Levi Who is Called Biff, and get him to write a second gospel of Christ. Raziel pulls Biff from the ground, grants him the gift of tongues, and they start out on their journey together. Their “journey”, as it turns out, is an isolated stay at a hotel room with pizza, modern day soaps on the TV, and the occasional visit from the hotel Concierge, Jesus. Raziel instructs Biff to tell the story of his childhood with his best friend Joshua, AKA The Son of God, and the fun starts there.
Biff begins his story of growing up with his best friend, Joshua, who knows from an early age that he is the son of God. The tales start with the two boys, at the age of six, playing Moses and the Pharaoh, and resurrecting lizards after “mashing” them. There are hilarious stories of torturing little brothers in ways most older brothers today wouldn’t think of, and Biff’s adorable crush on his best friend’s mom. Moore has a way of telling these stories through a young Biff that immediately made me feel attached to this endearing friendship. Locked in the hotel room with the angel and a stashed away copy Gideon’s Bible; Biff stitches his story together of the lost years of the life of Christ. His childhood.
I was sucked in by Biff’s innocence as he tells of their adventures that include both the normal kid things and things that only happen when your best friend is the messiah. Moore also succeeds at giving Biff a humorous personality that translates perfectly on the page. His silly, little boy, sense of humor matures only slightly as he ages throughout the book from age six, to thirty. His sense of humor is so perfectly written I found myself giggling out loud with every page. Talking about our favorite funny moments as a group had almost all of us in a fit of giggles all over again. (For the sake of transparency, not everyone in our group thought the book was as funny as I did.)
One of the funniest scenes for me was Biff telling the tale of being in trouble only to have The Angel come to their apparent rescue, flying through the sky and writing out “SURRENDER DOROTHY” in the black smoke. That story is followed with the line “I was just fuckin’ with you”. You can almost hear Biff giggling in your head when you read these transition lines. Lines where Moore moves between living in the moment of the story Biff is telling and living with Biff in the modern day, as he tries to find the right way to share the story of his best friend. Moore makes these transitions in time and place feel seamless for the reader, which is not always easy to do, but they really work here.
When I was trying to think of something critical to say about the book, I really couldn’t. At first I thought, maybe, just maybe, it was too long. While it never loses its humorous side, the book is 405 pages long and covers more than 20 years of history. The problem I came across when I thought about making it shorter was I couldn’t think of anything I would want to see taken out. The childhood stories of attempting to circumcise a Roman statue, and experiencing their first crush on the new girl, Mary, were some of my favorite parts. The teen lessons on sex, coffee and responsibilities were absolutely necessary to their journey through life. And you could not get to the story’s conclusion without the tales of young adulthood; of learning who your friends are, and how we use the lessons from our youth. So, really, the length is perfect.
If you think you’re going to pick up this book and find a new explanation of the bible and the life and times of Christ, you won’t. There is no part of this story where the writer expects you to take this as his interpretation of “actual” events. And if you’re religiously sensitive or easily offended, this might not be the book for you. If stories of Jesus acting like a regular 10 year old boy, sneaking out in the dark with his best friends to vandalize a statue, or living as a teenager with a Magi and his Chinese concubines, would bother you, again, you might not want to try this one.
But also don’t think you couldn’t enjoy this book if you are religious. Our group has a variety of religious levels – from an atheist (me) to the deeply faithful (who picked the book) – and while not everyone got the humor of the story, no one was offended by the story or its subject matter. Everyone agreed that this was much more than a humorous take on religion. Lamb is really a story about lifelong friendship, the innocence of your first love, and the different lessons we each learn even as we travel the same paths together. I would easily recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun read.