By Yossarian | Books | April 8, 2010 |
By Yossarian | Books | April 8, 2010 |
“Disguised as a young Dinka woman, God came at dusk to a refugee camp in the North Darfur region of Sudan. He wore a flimsy green cotton dress, battered leather sandals, hoop earrings, and a length of black-and-white beads around his neck. Over his shoulder he carried a cloth sack which held a second dress, a bag of sorghum, and a plastic cup. He’d manifested a wound in the meat of his right calf, a jagged, festering gash that was attracting flies. The purpose of the wound was twofold. First, it enabled him to blend in with the residents of the camp, many of whom bore similar injuries from the slashing machetes of Janjaweed raiding parties. Second, the intense, burning ache helped to mitigate the guilt he felt at the lot of the refugees, over which he was, due to an implacable polytheistic bureaucracy, nearly powerless.”
… God Is Dead by Ron Currie
The title of Ron Currie’s novel, God Is Dead, is not meant figuratively like when Nietzsche said it. The premise of the novel is the literal death of God and the resulting effects on society.
Let me explain: God takes the human form of a refugee in Darfur. He does this to be closer to the suffering there, something he feels sorry over but cannot fix. He wants to apologize and do what he can to alleviate suffering. While in human form he is killed, and this death is apparently final. The novel does not give the impression that God was trapped against his will in human form or frantically trying to return to heaven before he died (‘Beam me up, Petey’). This gives the impression that his death was accepted voluntarily, the first act of suicide in a book that throws an awful lot of them at you.
Eventually the world learns of the death of God (wild dogs that ate from God’s corpse and gained enlightenment tell them about it telepathically) and society begins to fall apart. People stop working, stop caring, anarchy and chaos reign, a lot of people are killed or commit suicide (this seems counter-intuitive to me; if there is no God, that’s all the more reason to make the most of life on Earth). Eventually, when the world doesn’t end — doesn’t change at all, really, except for the behavior of people on it — order is restored and life begins to get back to some kind of normal. Except it is much more authoritarian and fragile, like a world glued back together after being shattered.
This is really difficult to describe in a book review. Let me back up a little. This actually is a serious novel, not a sci-fi fantasy written by a misanthropic high school kid. The book is organized as a series of interrelated short stories that progress chronologically. The characters and setting are never the same, but the premise and continuity are. The first story is the death of God. Then we get the suicide of a priest. Then, a group of friends back from college make a suicide pact amid a post-apocalyptic world thrown into chaos. Details of what happened and how are usually not filled in until later. The chapter “Interview With the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on God’s Corpse” which occurs about half way though the book sheds a lot of light on the events between chapter one and the later chapters (it’s also one of the more interesting chapters). Other stories give pretty heavy-handed satire, like when religious wars are replaced by wars over beliefs in evolutionary psychology and postmodern anthropology.
One story that emerges is that in the absence of God people begin to worship their children in “a transference of the innate human need to worship something.” This is taken to such an extreme that it threatens to undermine the thin semblances of civilization. Children are worshiped to an unhealthy extreme. They are indulged to the point of ridiculousness. Parents stop going to work so they can sit at home and watch cartoons and play with toys all day, in order to get closer to the sanctity of children. They let their children make major decisions for the household, like what the spend their money on. The government intervenes with laws restricting the worship of children and forcing adults to attend counseling sessions where they are told their kids are average, stupid, unspectacular and dim. Of course I had the interesting perspective of reading this chapter with a sleeping infant on my shoulder.
Again the details of how society pulled itself together are largely ignored. The novel jumps around and focuses on single characters and small-scale events. The larger developments or the godless world and the authoritarian power structure that develops to hold it together are for the most part ignored, with only a casual reference to the formation of the laws against child deification or the illegality of owning, not kiddie porn, but any pictures of children at all which could be worshiped as religious icons. It’s bizarre and disorienting and illogical and belies a weakness in storytelling. It was an interesting, quick read, but not really anything I would recommend unless the details above made you curious and your library has a copy. A few stories were pretty good, others not so much. Waiting a month after I read it to write the review probably didn’t do this book any favors.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Yossarian’s reviews, check out his blog, This Is Not a Blog.