Literary licence to thrill
Jesus Christ and James Bond.
It’s hard to imagine much — if any — commonality between the Christian Son of God and Ian Fleming’s fictional philandering super spy.
But trust Red Deer author Kimmy Beach — who’s already known for her idiosyncratic books of poetry and prose on James Cagney and Paul McCartney — to see a link and run with it.
For her latest literary undertaking, The Last Temptation of Bond, published by the University of Alberta Press, Beach drew inspiration from two of her favourite, albeit wildly divergent, indulgences.
She attempts a mash-up of the entire catalogue of James Bond movies going back to the early 1960s and Nikos Kazantzakis’ controversial novel The Last Temptation of Christ, in which Jesus is given the choice of stepping down from the cross and not sacrificing his life for the rest of us.
Given that both Christ and Bond are essentially immortal and on a mission to save the world, Beach said she began thinking, what if Bond was given the same choice as Kazantzakis’ Jesus? “What if he didn’t have to save the world and instead you could give him a desk job?”
While her Bond starts out as the suave, martini-sipping, womanizing, bullet-dispensing spy of popular culture, he ends up saddled with a wife and three kids, working in accounts-receivable for Universal Exports (the fictional import-export company which acts as a cover for the British Secret Service in Fleming’s books).
Essentially Beach takes away the main thing that’s made Bond films international hits for five decades — the vicarious jolt of escapist adventure they provide to our ho-hum lives.
So how does Bond cope with this smothering dose of reality? Predictably, he hates it, said Beach, with a laugh.
Readers will have to peruse The Last Temptation of Bond, an imaginative pastiche of poetry, prose and playwriting, to see whether the one-time spy gets his action-packed life back.
This is hardly Beach’s first fanciful take on pop culture. She has also written Nice Day for Murder: poems for James Cagney, Alarum Within: theatre poems, fake Paul (about a stalking search for the “real” Paul McCartney), and in Cars, about her love for cars and roller rinks while growing up in the West.
Beach said she will be forever inspired by Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, which retells the outlaw’s tale through different poetic viewpoints.
The revisionist genre she began contributing to with her first James Cagney-inspired work 12 years ago is now burgeoning in bookstores with Jane Austen heroines encountering zombies and vampires. “I haven’t read any of (these books), but I know a couple of Jane Austen fans who think they’re fantastic and really funny,” said Beach, who believes any time pop culture is mixed with literature it’s a chance to turn more people on to the literary originals.
She hopes her Bond book will spur the same interest in Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.
For the record, the Red Deer author started her latest work five years ago, with no idea it would be finished in time to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bond. “There was no attempt to cash in.”
The University of Alberta graduate, who has worked as a writer, editor and mentor for the last 20 years, said she’s been a big fan of Fleming’s spy since seeing her first James Bond movie in Paris in 1983 when she was 18.
She soon realized she was slow on the uptake, having missed 20-odd years of previous Bond films, but Beach has since dived into the genre that she appreciates for its tongue-in-cheek humour, irreverence and plain “silliness.”
Although the latest movie Bond, actor Daniel Craig, has taken the character to more realist levels than in the past, she said she still loves his portrayal.
“Daniel Craig is fantastic, even though what he’s doing is not exactly the James Bond personality . . . He’s trying to make him more of a real person, and I realize the irony in that, because I’m doing the same thing in this book. I’m trying to give him more of a full life.”
The Last Temptation of Bond will be available at Sunworks in Red Deer starting March 22. Beach, who praises the store’s owners for being big supporters of the local arts scene, said an opening reception will be held that same Friday from 7 p.m. The book is also available for $19.95 from www.uap.ualberta.ca.