Lamb, a novel by Christopher Moore.
The subtitle on this one is “The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal”, so right off you should know if you’re the type that will enjoy this story, or the kind that maybe shouldn’t pick it up. Me, I’m the type that would enjoy this story.
Having read Moore’s novel Coyote Blue years ago, I knew that he was funny. Apparently I’d forgotten how funny. I chortled all the way through this book (well, till I got to the last section, titled “The Passion”).
The story is largely concerned with the “missing years” of Christ’s life. Biff (whose real name is Levi bar Alphaeus) and Christ (whose real name is Joshua bar Joseph) grow up together, fall in love with the same girl (Mary the Magdalene, referred to here as “Maggie”), and have all kinds of adventures and misadventures together. When events conspire to put Maggie beyond their reach forever, Joshua and Biff saddle up and head off to the East, looking for the Wise Men that had showed up on the night of Josh’s birth.
They track down Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar, traipsing from Israel to Afghanistan, China, and India in the process, learning kung fu, Zen Buddhism, and Hindu asceticism along the way. (Well, Josh learns; Biff is more into the ladies, and he learns quite a few items from them, mostly related to the Kama Sutra.)
The story is packed with laughs, both overt and sly (at one point, Biff says to Josh, as they travel toward Damascus, “Well it’s not just going to come to you in a flash here on the Damascus road, Josh. That sort of thing doesn’t happen.”
As good as he is at telling the funny stuff, Moore doesn’t flinch when he tells the sad stories; the grim and gruesome parts of the tale are equally well-told. The Passion and the Crucifixion are especially heart-rending when told in the voice of a man forced to watch his closest friend die.
When I came to the epilogue, I found myself wishing there was more, much more. I think I’ll have to get some more Christopher Moore novels into my house.