James Morrow

Harcourt / 368 pages / October 2000

ISBN: 015601081X

No one does it better. Many great authors have taken on the subject of religion; many of those have done it with humour. But nobody approaches James Morrow’s wicked, perceptive genius. With The Eternal Footman Morrow has topped himself; no longer can I say that Only Begotten Daughter is my favourite, not with this stunning novel on the scene.

And, as always with Morrow, you will be sucked in by the first word and loath to release it after the last. He’s just got that ability to sweep readers up and bear them away.

This world has been going to has been going to hell in a hand basket for some time, and we all know it. Nothing that happens should shock us, because any horrifying thing is possible and has probably already happened somewhere without CNN. Fortunately, Morrow has been charting the course of our downhill slide and laying it out for all to see.

Towing Jehovah saw God dead, a huge floater in need of refrigeration. It fell to Anthony Van Horne, and a supertanker, to take on the job of the world’s most unpleasant hauling job. Blameless In Abaddon followed the efforts of one Martin Candle, cancer-stricken plaintiff, in the fight to bring God to justice for crimes against creation. Candle’s arguments should be more than enough to win over even the most devout.

But it is in The Eternal Footman, the last, essential piece of the trilogy, that misery really comes to a head. Come to think of it, it’s a head that puts the last nail in millions of coffins. God, in yet another unpleasant exhibition, falls to pieces before an appalled audience, sinking from sight. All, that is, except for the enormous skull which rises in the sky to become a truly morbid moon. Morrow’s inventiveness on this one point forces out startled laughs in the macabre moments, again and again.

As a plague threatens to wipe out the Americas, desperate people stoop to desperate measures in an attempt to save their loved ones. It is a catastrophe almost too massive to imagine, but Morrow can make you see it all. And, as with any disaster, there are those who were just waiting to take advantage of the situation. Perhaps, things can get worse.

Morrow’s brilliance shines out in his ability to speculate on the worst-case scenario and still keep his faith in people. It’s a harsh, grisly ride, but, unless you richly deserve it, your seatbelt won’t malfunction. Humanity may not be worth saving (and there’s plenty of evidence of that), but people are. There will always be some, no matter the state of the world.

Will some people be offended by The Eternal Footman? Of course, they will! There is someone out there just aching to be incensed about something. Let them rant. Turning down Morrow’s offerings is only hurting yourself.

(Image and creation appear without credit in a major motion picture. See if you can catch it on your own)