"God is Dead"
(Reviewed by Mike Frechette AUG 10, 2008)
“Children Are Like Any Other Group of People – A Couple of Winners, a Whole Lot of Losers.”
If there is a place in the world today where it seems like God is dead, many would agree that place is Sudan. In a country where rape, mass murder, and genocide go unchecked, it is only logical that deicide would occur as well, if not as a precursor to these horrific events then certainly as the direct result. Belief in a benevolent God becomes increasingly difficult in a place awash with atrocity and despair. Ron Currie, Jr., clearly tuned into this logic, kills off God in the first chapter of his debut novel God Is Dead. This single act sets the premise for a book that is at once imaginatively twisted, darkly comic, and offensively thought-provoking.
Without much of an introduction, the reader quickly learns at the outset that God has come to earth as a suffering Sudanese woman in the North Darfur region searching for her brother. Although equipped with an infinite bag of sorghum, Currie’s God is otherwise limited in knowledge and powerless to relieve the suffering of the Sudanese refugees. His aimless wandering eventually leads him to Colin Powell, who, visiting the region as part of the Bush administration, decides to help God find his sibling. Currie caricatures Powell as a foul-mouthed Jesse Jackson, and his outbursts about the President are laugh-out-loud funny. The chapter ends in an attack by the corrupt Sudanese government, and the reader discovers later that God died trying to flee to Kenya with some other refugees. Feral dogs fed upon His corpse and subsequently began speaking and walking on water.
What follows this strange first chapter are even more bizarre vignettes loosely connected only by the fact that they occur in a post-God world. In a brave new America where God is dead, priests commit suicide, a circle of friends engage in a suicide pact, and adults, lost without a God, begin to worship children instead. Eventually, the entire planet becomes embroiled in a grand, militarist ideological struggle. Evolutionary Psychologists who believe in genetic predetermination struggle against Postmodern Anthropologists who subscribe to choice and free will.
Meant to be funny, the premise of Currie’s novel certainly will be offensive to some serious-minded theistic readers. Moreover, brazenly situating dark comedy in the midst of the Sudanese crisis might leave some feeling uneasy about laughing. Even for those readers who find offense, though, there are also sections where Currie’s Vonnegut-style humor cannot help but evoke laughter from everyone. For instance, one chapter is a first-person narrative of a regional psychiatrist for CAPA – the Child Adulation Prevention Agency. This character works to deprogram a town’s citizens from believing that children possess some sort of divine wisdom. On his desk sits “the official CAPA paperweight, a statuette of a smiling child with the words NOTHING SPECIAL stamped upon its base.” During one of his appointments, he exclaims to one mother that her son “never scored higher than a 98. Like most of us, Levon will have to rely on the gifted few to drive human intellectual progress in his lifetime. He will be a passenger, not a participant.” The real punch line comes when the reader catches this same psychologist worshipfully gazing at children’s-clothing catalogs in the privacy of his own home.
While humorous, this slim novel also makes some serious points about the possibility of meaning in a world where the divine creator has been eliminated. Once God dies, the knee-jerk reaction is to ask what kind of world Currie will now depict for his readers in the ensuing pages. This reader discovered a world not much different from the present day, a world filled with war, existential longing, and suicide. God is dead, but this new reality has not instituted any permanent change; it has not made people any worse nor has it particularly enlightened them for the better.
Currie’s point here is not to be fatalistic, but to highlight the human need for things metaphysical, even in the face of a nonexistent divinity. In the novel, people no longer attend church on Sunday, but their spiritual side still surfaces in other bizarre ways through ideological wars, child worship, or group suicide. As one adolescent remarks about group suicide with his friends, “It’s kind of a sacred thing.” The title is that of an atheist manifesto, but Currie’s novel is instead much subtler and more paradoxical. It brilliantly walks the fine line between theism and atheism and suggests a metaphysical component inherent to the human animal that will somehow manifest itself even if God is dead.
- Amazon readers rating: from 30 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Ron Currie, Jr.
- BookSlut interview with Ron Currie, Jr.
- Reading Guide for God is Dead
- Guardian reivew of God is Dead
- Bookslut review of God is Dead
- Believer Mag review of God is Dead
- The Quarterly Conversation review of God is Dead
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About the Author:
Ron Currie was born and raised in Waterville, Me graduating from Waterville High School in 1993 and then going on to attend Clemson University. He spent years working as a cook in various restaurants and writing when he was not in the kitchen.
His prizewinning fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Sun, Other Voices, and Night Train. He has been shortlisted for the Fish International Short Story Award and Swink magazine's Emerging Writer Award. His debut novel God is Dead won the New York Public Library's 2008 Young Lions Fiction Award.
He lives in Waterville, Maine.