June 2007

Drew Nellins

fiction

God is Dead by Ron Currie, Jr.

God is Dead is both the title and plot of Ron Currie Jr.’s wonderful first book. It opens with the death of God, who, disguised as a Sudanese woman, dies in Darfur. The death of God does not, as one might expect, bring about the end of time, the end of mankind or some “horrifying Mad Max-type scenario.” Those books have been written time and again, and Currie does not rehash them. A glance at the first few pages confirms that he is far smarter than that, and far more imaginative.

The truth is one needn’t read even a few pages to see that. I had a feeling I’d like this book when I read the Table of Contents and noticed a story called “Interview with the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on God’s Corpse.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

Divided into titled sections, God is Dead is comprised of nine stories, each built on the premise of the Creator’s demise, some very closely connected. Unlike many other novels built from stories, each of Currie’s tales dovetails into the other perfectly, making the work feel not so much like a novel or a collection, but merely a book, and a particularly strong one at that. 

In “The Bridge,” a girl fresh from her high school graduation watches as police try to talk a priest off a ledge. It’s a brilliantly composed story, down to the manner Currie arranges his characters in physical space in the final scene. On the opposite side of the bridge from her friends, the main character sees, not just the priest hanging on to the railing, but also the reactions of her peers as they view the event from the other side.

In “Indian Summer,” a group of ten young men dwindles two at a time as they follow through with a suicide pact. “I even giggled a bit, just before the room exploded with blood and smoke. I mean, we were supposed to be heading back to college, except that there were no colleges to return to. It was all very difficult to wrap your head around.”

“False Idols” tells the story of a future crisis in which people, without a God to consult, begin worshiping their children. In one ridiculous exchange, a therapy patient speaks with his Child Adulation Prevention Psychiatrist (CAPP):

“I’ve got to decide things like, should I buy food this week, or should I put that hundred dollars into fixing the car so I can get out and look for a job?"

"It’s a tough choice," I agreed. "What do you think?"

"I don’t know. I asked Boo where he thought I should put the money." Boo was Ricky’s four-year-old son, Ricky Jr. "He said I should buy ten sets of Hungry Hungry Hippos."

It appears at the end of the exchange that, in spite of his CAPP’s advice, Ricky, Sr. will end up investing the hippos and hoping for the best. “God, hamstrung by a spotty track record, and dead besides, was out; kids, tangible, blameless, and cute as hell, were in.”

Though there is a great deal of humor in God is Dead, little in the book feels glib, which contributes tremendously to its success. In fact, the few times I felt my attention waning were in sections which I felt were too far off the beaten path, too cute, too clever. Something in the late story “The Helmet of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit” struck this reader as slightly too George Saunders-esque. I much prefer Ron Currie’s insights when they are more earnest and less idea-driven. But, even “The Helmet of Salvation” is an interesting, smart read and had I spotted it in a literary magazine, I would have sought out more of the author’s work.

Two sections of the book detail global wars fought by groups with opposing perspectives -- the Postmodern Anthropologists versus the Evolutionary Psychologists -- vying for philosophical control in the years following God’s death. As absurd as the set-up sounds, Currie manages to hit all the notes that make it seem more plausible than farcical.

As a freshman effort, God is Dead is almost miraculous. One more like this one, and I’ll count Currie among my favorite authors.

God is Dead by Ron Currie, Jr.
Viking
ISBN: 0670038679
192 Pages