James's Reviews > The Book of Genesis

The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb
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Apr 22, 13

Read from April 09 to 17, 2013

I got this for my birthday from my sister a couple of years ago. It was a perfect gift score (two of my favorite things in one handsomely bound volume), the kind you only manage to pull off once in a while and, even then, you have to know the recipient really well. I was delighted to own it and I looked forward with pleasure to reading it, but I was I even more pleased for her as the giver in a kind of weird recursive altruism loop.
I figured Crumb's Genesis would be the perfect transition between the two Jenny Diski Genesis novels I just read and the The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat that I recently checked out from work. I was delighted to learn that Crumb chose to use a translation by Robert Alter, whose book Pen of Iron, about the influence of the King James Bible on American prose, I adored.
Among the myriad of things that make me feel old is the fact that the man who more or less created underground/alternative comics is an eminence grise, who now publishes in the New Yorker rather than Zap Comix. The Genesis project is utterly charming in a sweetly stodgy way. I read a comic book Old Testament years ago that gleefully wallowed in the more lurid elements of the Bible, "the parts," as Alex puts it in A Clockwork Orange, "where these old yahoodies tolchok each other and then drink their Hebrew vino and getting onto the bed with their wives' handmaidens." Although the Rachel and Leah and Tamar of Crumb's imagination do call to mind familiar mightily-thewed fantasy women like Dale Steinberger the Jewish Cowgirl and there are a few graphically violent panels (Cain murdering Abel, Simeon and Levi massacring the Shechemites) Crumb rigorously eschews lurid sensationalism. His approach, "a straight illustration job," is to translate every verse, even the interminable lineages, to imagery on the page. The lineages consist, in his rendition, of head-and-shoulders portraits of Semitic men of all ages and types laid out yearbook style, a "Faces of Beersheeba," if you will, that are highly evocative of the quirky portraits in Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country.
My one quibble with Crumb's Genesis would be the obsessive and entirely too uncritical references in the notes section to Sarah, the Priestess, a 'herstory' book that apparently reads the Abraham/Sarah story as a coded reference to patriarchy's usurpation of the Earth Mother's prerogatives. I would have thought someone so famously contemptuous of hippies would have a little more skepticism for New Age hooey.
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