The Eternal Footman
by James Morrow
Harcourt Brace & Company, copyright © 1999 James Morrow
I was sent a copy of The Eternal Footman by someone who visited this site. Since I did not pick the book off the shelf, I was a little suspect, and then after reading the cover flap, I was even more so. This is not the type of book I would normally pick up and buy. However, after the first paragraph, I was hooked. This brash, funny, and lyrical book is well worth reading.
The book is follows the story of two other Morrow books, Towing Jehovah and Blameless in Abaddon. I hadn't read either of them before, but The Eternal Footman is self-contained, and I had no problem following the story-line.
Where to start with this review is a good question. The book is set in an apocalyptic society in which God is dead. The proof of this is his skull, which has gone into geosynchronus orbit above New York. Mankind is being hit by a terrible affliction abulia, a type of slow death in which people are visited by their "fetch," a look-alike apparition who leads them through the ghastly symptoms leading to death. The fetch are grim reapers in their victims' guises.
Nora Burkhart will do anything to save her only son, Kevin, one of the very first afflicted, from his fate. She starts on an almost impossible journey from New England to Mexico where she has heard of a cure for the dreadful condition. Along the way, she watches a pitched battle on a New Jersey golf course between Jews using surplus ontos as their tanks (and the Teaneck Riding Academy as cavalry) and anti-Semites using Brinks trucks as their armor. She catches up with a travelling theater troupe who puts the Gilgamesh epic to stage. When she finally makes it to Mexico, she bribes the gatekeeper at the clinic with cream made from the tissues of God's dead body. The cream cures the gatekeeper's impotence, and Kevin is admitted.
The other main character is Gerard Korty, a renowned sculptor, who is first hired by the Vatican to create a glorious work (which is changed entirely from his concept) and then also travels to Mexico to first assists in the cure by making idols, then to create his true masterwork, carved from an meteorite.
I won't spoil the ending here, but suffice it to say that it is surprising.
Morrow uses an almost lyrical, whimsical approach to the written word. I found myself reading several passages aloud just to hear the words strung together. His attention to detail is wonderful (during the battle at the golf course, he describes Jewish fighters driving electric shopping carts slaughtering anti-Semites charioteers driving rottweiler carts with the dead bodies stretching from the "tenth hole to the Bing Crosby Tavern." Maybe this phrase will not go down in history, but it conjures up a much more vivid picture in my mind than battle descriptions in other books. I can see the rottweilers running off, whimpering and yelping, I can see the shopping carts puttering along, and I can see the Tavern.
The Eternal Footman is a funny book. The pure level of "ridiculousness" sets it apart from most books. But like any good satire, it also offers serious looks at the human soul.
I am glad I was sent the book as I doubt I would have picked it up otherwise. It was a truly enjoyable as well as though-provoking read, and I now plan on reading more of his work.
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