By Whitney Pastorek
February 18, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

You know the expression ”It’s not exactly King Lear”? Fool ain’t either. Humorist Christopher Moore — who’s never met a cracked-out scenario he couldn’t turn into something weirder — reworks Shakespeare’s most bombastic tragedy from the perspective of the mad king’s Fool, employing anachronisms and characters who don’t belong (like the witches from Macbeth) to ?whimsy up the proceedings. No easy feat, but we’re talking about a guy who once tweaked the Bible (2003’s Lamb), and whose taste for gore and ?insouciance knows no bounds. Call it just another day at the ?cult-author office — and brace yourself for what Pocket, the jester in question, might call plenty of ”heinous f—ery,” as Moore tosses iambs in favor of irreverence.

Pocket’s a wry underdog protagonist of vintage Moore stock, much chagrined by his lot but successful all the same; his harried machinations (and talent with knives) would make Iago blush. Ah, but how things doth run ? off the rails in the latter acts, once the infamous storm appears. Trapped by calamity, Moore loses his focus to the bloody challenge of finding funny in a bunch of crazy people wandering the cliffs of Dover and dying in droves. Amid all the mistaken identities and offstage betrayals, the best he can hope for is to hang on until the too-?pat denouement. He’s also taken one significant (nonflippant) liberty with the Bard’s script in order to score a happy ending, but that’s okay. We’re attached to Pocket, and this book screams for a sequel in which, unhindered by dramaturgy, Moore can let his fool run free. B


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