Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Only Begotten Daughter
James Morrow
Harvest Books, 312 pages

Only Begotten Daughter
James Morrow
James Morrow has been called "The most provocative satiric voice in science fiction" by the Washington Post. It may be true. He won a World Fantasy Award for his novels, Towing Jehovah and Only Begotten Daughter, and has been nominated for his collection, Bible Stories for Adults.

James Morrow Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Eternal Footman
SF Site Review: Blameless in Abaddon
Interview
James Morrow Bio Information

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

Advertisement
Every month Murray Katz supplements his income by donating to the local sperm bank. However, one month in 1974 something unusual happens. Murray's donation spontaneously becomes a cell cluster, a potential human. This can mean only one thing: immaculate conception. Murray's cell cluster is the daughter of God. He steals her and the ectogenesis machine that supports her and takes her back to his lighthouse on the Atlantic where he christens her Julie.

The rest of the novel chronicles Julie Katz's life as she struggles under the burden of godhood. As well as dealing with the usual traumas of puberty and sex, she also has to contend with the devil. Manifested in the form of Andrew Wyvern, he has his own agenda and, as we are repeatedly told, lies "not always, but often".

However, more than anything, she is faced with the problem of reconciling her miraculous powers with the knowledge she cannot use them to help everyone and to try to do so would take a heavy toll on her. She is also deeply troubled by the absence of her mother, God, from her life.

This isolated, assailed figure is reminiscent of George Paxton, the protagonist from James Morrow's earlier This Is The Way The World Ends. Like that novel, the satire in Only Begotten Daughter is often only the thinnest veneer. Think of the painful irony of Yossarian wandering through the streets of Rome rather than the broad farce earlier on in Catch-22.

Morrow never succumbs to the excesses that satirists often do. This is demonstrated when Julie journeys to Hell. Rather than the theme park of ironic punishments that seems to be the default modern conception it is a genuinely horrific place. Likewise the religious fundamentalists are not cardboard figures of mockery; the murderous Reverend Billy Moon is a figure the reader can often sympathise with.

As Morrow himself has said: "What straw man could be more desiccated than Christian fundamentalism or Roman Catholic authoritarianism?" Rather the novel is an attack on dogma of all stripes, the black and white certainty of ideology. For example, in Hell, Julie asks a former lover:

"You still think the problem is we don't have all the science?":
"Of course I do," said Howard. "Look at this place, Julie -- incomprehensible, absurd. Obviously we don't have all the science."
This theme, of thinking for oneself and the rejection of herd mentality, permeates the novel. It is also projected outward onto the reader. The grotesqueries of this novel (and there are plenty) are shocking but they are never for shock value. In this, as with everything else, Morrow simply refuses to coddle the reader.

Only Begotten Daughter won the World Fantasy Award for 1991 and it's a brave, worthy choice. It is a book that is often distressing to read and often extremely funny, a book that is awash with suffering and degradation but remains shot through with optimism. It is a remarkable novel and one everybody should read.

Copyright © 2002 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in South London; he is originally from Bradford, UK. He writes book reviews for The Telegraph And Argus.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide