In Towing Jehovah, the discovery of the two-mile-long corpse of God in the mid-Atlantic proved a serious menace both to navigation and to faith. But was God truly dead, as the nihilists and the New York Timesbelieved? In Blameless in Abaddon, his body – comatose yet far from inert – has been hauled from its temporary resting place in the Arctic to Florida, where it has become the Main Attraction at Orlando’s Celestial City USA. And now one Martin Candle, a small-time and sore-afflicted judge practicing in Abaddon Township, Pennsylvania, proposes further travels for the Corpus Dei: to the World Court in the Hague, to answer for history’s injustices large and small.
THE STORY IN BRIEF
Martin Candle, a Pennsylvania justice of the peace practicing in Abaddon Township, inhabits a world much like our own–with one important difference. Far to the south, the two-mile-long, comatose body of God lies supine in an Orlando theme park, Celestial City USA. Like the biblical Job, Martin is beset by a series of troubles–first he develops prostate cancer, then his wife dies in an absurd automobile accident–and, like Job, he resolves to call God to account. The World Court in Holland eventually agrees to hear Martin’s case.
|Before traveling to the Netherlands, Martin joins a scientific expedition into the dying brain of the Corpus Dei. Here he meets the two great and incomprehensible beasts from the Book of Job: Behemoth, the monster hippopotamus, and Leviathan, the supernatural sea monster. He also encounters various biblical personalities–Eve, Abraham, Noah, Lot’s daughters, and the original Job–each of them offering a different explanation for God’s seeming acquiescence to evil.|
|As the Trial of the Millennium gets underway, Martin faces three formidable religious thinkers, each equipped with a powerful “theodicy”–a justification of God’s ways to humankind. A New England rabbi reveals that disasters typically involve a “hidden harmony” or a “greater good.” A Yale theologian argues that adversity builds character. A Benedictine monk explains that momentary evil is the unavoidable price of free will and a cosmos bursting with variety.|
|After the nine World Court judges render their verdict, Martin returns to the interior of the Corpus Dei’s brain, where no less a personage than Jesus Christ reveals the real reason that God permits suffering.|
Illustrations for The Book of Job by William Blake.
QUESTION & ANSWER WITH JAMES MORROW
How does Blameless in Abaddon relate to your previous novel, the World Fantasy Award-winning Towing Jehovah?
Both books center around the two-mile-long, dysfunctional–and possibly dead–body of God. So, in one sense, Blameless in Abaddon is a sequel to Towing Jehovah. But it’s also a self-contained story, with a new set of characters. Right now I’m working on the third volume of the Godhead Trilogy, The Eternal Footman, in which the Corpus Dei’s skull goes into orbit like a second moon. Humanity finds this sight so intolerable that a plague of depression descends upon Western civilization. People start seeing–and even conversing with–their own personified deaths.
The hero of Blameless in Abaddon, Martin Candle, puts his Creator on trial for crimes against humanity. Are you really that angry at God?
Blameless springs directly from my readings in “theodicy,” the justification of God’s ways to humankind. Most such treatises, I feel, suffer from a paradox. In rationalizing evil–the free-will defense, the ontological defense, and so on–the authors end up trivializing it. I’m not angry at God so much as I’m angry at books like C.S. Lewis’sThe Problem of Pain. A version of Lewis, by the way, appears in Blameless as the character G.F. Lovett.
You’ve described Blameless in Abaddon as a “modern-dress retelling of the Book of Job.” Hasn’t this been done before?
There are many precedents: Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Archibald MacLeish’s J.B., Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God, Robert Heinlein’sJob: A Comedy of Justice, Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite. Most of my forebears confined themselves to the famous Prologue: the blameless hero being visited by a succession of disasters. But the heart of the biblical drama is Job’s encampment on the dung heap, where he engages in an astonishing, sustained, poetic rant against divine injustice. What’s remarkable about Martin Candle is not his innocence but his integrity. He’s determined to expose God as a wicked tyrant, and he takes his case all the way to the World Court in Holland.
Although you’ve been labeled a “science fiction” writer, critics often compare you to Kurt Vonnegut and other black humorists. One reviewer called Blameless in Abaddon “theological slapstick.” Who is your audience?
My sensibility has been shaped more by the great social satires–Candide, Huckleberry Finn, 1984, Catch-22–than by the science-fiction genre. On the other hand, every James Morrow novel includes a fantastical conceit of the sort that SF audiences are prepared to accept and celebrate. I believe I’m a “slipstream” writer with a foot in each camp.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
“Blameless in Abaddon … is a sequel that can be read with pleasure quite apart from its predecessor, Towing Jehovah … As a latter-day Job, Martin Candle knows injustice when he sees it. But instead of merely lamenting his fate, he files a complaint against the comatose Deity in the World Court in The Hague … In spinning out this tale, Mr. Morrow avoids the twin pitfalls of whimsy and pretension. He even manages to generate suspense about the outcome of the trial while playing with such verbal conceits as ‘gomorry’–the rare but logical correlate of sodomy.”
“Fantasy-satirist James Morrow has been blessed to live in a time with an abundance of targets for his art. And he makes the most of it in Blameless in Abaddon … Morrow packs his novel with funny, biting, and deliciously nasty comment about everything from Southern Baptists to dull Republicans to Americans’ boundless capacity to celebrate the brainless, vulgar, and bizarre … How, Morrow asks through his fantastical plot line, can a loving God permit evil that causes the suffering of innocents? … At times most eyes will glaze at the retelling of old theologies, and the wackiest reaches of the narrative ultimately test credulity even for fantasy writing. So be it. Tally it as the price for a work that is diverting and entertaining, sober and demanding, all at once … Morrow, like the Devil, does not lack for audacity in this funny, ferocious fantasy. Overreaching aside, he has taken a preposterous plot line and layered it with the profound. Best of all, he chooses not to leave us with the smug nihilism such an effort could easily have produced.”
“Blameless in Abaddon is laced with outrageous puns, biting satire, and an extremely entertaining and enlightening exploration of moral questions that have troubled mankind for a long time. It does not provide easy answers, but it does give the reader the tools to make his or her own decisions. On one level, this is a first-rate fantasy yarn which succeeds as adventure and satire. On another, it is a thoughtful and compassionate exploration of the philosophical answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people. In a refreshing exception to current trends, psycho-babble is totally absent, replaced with crisp writing and provocative ideas. This book is not for those who thought The Celestine Prophecy was a work of any moral or philosophical significance. Those people should grab their crystals and get back to reading Carlos Castenada. For the rest of us, this is a book to savor.”
“Morrow has carved out a niche all his own among a handful of contemporary fantasists–Jonathan Carroll, Tim Powers, and Angela Carter come to mind–who seem at the same time almost-classical and to be do doing something truly not done before … This is a wildly imaginative novel, never standing in place for long, dancing when you might better expect a march, hopscotching over all expectations, as barbed with high and low comedy as an Aristophanes play–and just as fundamentally serious. God’s dying (dead?) body is Martin Candle’s: our own. Any reasoned, civil rage at the world’s injustice is also a childlike, wordless rage against that death. And whatever court you wind up in, however just your case, you ain’t gonna win.”
“It rhymes with ‘Aladdin,’ and it’s an Old Testament word, standing for both a demon and the Bottomless Pit from which he came. It’s also hilarious, will probably be banned from some, or many, or most school libraries and will make many a fundamentalist foam at the mouth … The author has done the research for this ‘odyssey through theodicy.’ He demonstrates a sharp mind, a sharper tongue, and true master in conveying the moods of his characters. Salman Rushdie, eat your heart out. Jim Morrow, keep your head down. Only thing keeping you safe is that the folks who’d get maddest about this book read only one Book.”
“Morrow’s dramatization of the prosecution and defense of God is horrific, overwhelming, and totally engrossing. It won’t give away the verdict, or the ending, to forewarn you that the latter is a knockout … In Blameless in Abaddon James Morrow has tackled one of the Big Questions with courage and grace.”
“I thought the best part of the book would have to be the tour through God’s brain–until I got to the courtroom battle in Part Three, ‘God in the Dock,’ which offers even more hilarity, tightwire suspense, and truly moving poignancy. Candle … offers as evidence for the prosecution a week-long video documentary about the most terrible episodes of human cruelty, showing the evolution of Homo sapiens to be a thriving black petri dish of psychomachia and perversion … Morrow’s oeuvre supports my own personal motto, taken from a novel by Umberto Eco: ‘What the hell. Life goes on, unfortunately.'”
“Morrow had clearly done his homework here. His grasp of the classic theological defenses of God’s behavior is awesomely comprehensive, as is his grasp of the historical record of accidents, injustices, and apparent cosmic cruelty with which Martin Candle must try to penetrate those defenses. Beneath all the sorrow and comedy and surreal imaginings, Blameless in Abaddon is finally a novel of ideas, powerful ideas about how humans view their relationship to the universe and to the forces they believe govern that universe. In giving us the Trial of the Millennium, Morrow is not afraid to let those ideas take center stage. The result is a lively and provocative display of point-counterpoint played out with Shavian rigor on both sides of the theological divide … I won’t give the whole game away here, but I will say that the novel ends with a most satisfying and sensible vision of human responsibility in a universe where great beauty and great malice exist side by side.”