God and Lucifer make a wager, a familiar one made thousands of time in the past. This time, however, the stakes are somewhat higher. If he can get God’s champion, nine year old Joby Peterson, to renounce God, Lucifer will win the right to destroy Earth and remake it as he sees fit.
But as it turns out, Lucifer has his work cut out for him because Joby is a goodhearted boy, popular at school and loved by all. Faced with the obstacles the devil and his minions throw his way, Joby perseveres, drawing strength from his hero, the legendary King Arthur. With the help of his best friend Ben, he establishes his own round table at school made up of fellow classmates willing to follow the chivalric ideal. They help others, perform good deeds, and even invite a girl, Laura, to join their hitherto exclusively male ranks. Though frustrated in his initial attempts to break him, Lucifer proves just as resilient. He chips away at Joby’s relationship with his parents and, as Joby grows into adulthood, even succeeds in undermining his friendship with Ben and Laura.
Battered yet unbeaten, Joby eventually makes his way to Berkley where he becomes an advocate for the homeless. But just when one imagines things couldn’t get any worse for our hero, they do – and he is again hitting the road, this time heading to the town of Taubolt on the California coast.
There, he will find refuge, face Lucifer‘s final gambit, and uncover an astonishing secret about himself.
The Book of Joby is a modern retelling of The Book of Job. Given the premise, I was initially concerned that the narrative would prove too preachy or earnest, however I was pleased to discover a touching and grounded but ultimately uplifting story. Despite the trials and tribulations our hero suffers over the course of this novel, his spirit is never broken and his victory over the forces of darkness is all the more sweet given all he has gone through.
The first part of the book focusing on Joby’s childhood perfectly captured what it was like to be that age, struggling with the seemingly earth-shattering issues of bullying and parental acceptance. Despite the otherworldly implications of the problems Joby encounters, everything in this section rang true for me, from the loyalty and excitement engendered by friendships to the silent misgivings Joby experiences. The trio of Joby, Ben, and Laura are introduced and wonderfully developed, establishing them as rich, well-rounded characters the reader can truly care about. And it’s because Ferrari does such an incredible with these characters – and Joby in particular – that this physical and spiritual journey resonates so effectively.
While I enjoyed Joby’s journey and his settling in Taubolt, I found this latter section just as well-written (Ferrari’s background as an illustrator serves him nicely in his description of the quaint little community) but not quite as engaging, perhaps owing to the multitude of new characters introduced and my inability to keep a few of them straight.
Throughout the book, we continually cut back to the major players in the wager: God and his frustrated angels wracked by their inability to help Joby and God’s laisser-faire attitude; and Lucifer and his demons who struck me as perfectly suited for white collars positions in Corporate America. They serve as a contemporary chorus, commenting on events while wrestling with their own internal issues, off-setting the often depressing developments in Joby’s life with humor and surprising liveliness.
The book’s final revelation ties everything up in a big way and, while dramatically satisfying in many respects, it also undercuts what I feel is the heart of the story – that a regular person, in spite of all, would remain true to that which is good. God, it turned out, had a ringer all along. Of course one could argue that the fact that Lucifer has made and lost this wager some ten thousand times before (his only double-win coming with that couple in Eden) would suggest that regular people have done just that. At the same time, the fact that Lucifer has already lost this bet some ten thousand times before make Joby’s trial all but a foregone conclusion.
Nevertheless, The Book of Joby is an enjoyable and rewarding novel, balancing pathos with humor in a tale profound, sincere and stirring.
I’m very intersted to hear what those of you who read the book have to say…
Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday individual Belouchi.