I AM GOD
By Giacomo Sartori
Translated by Frederika Randall
Comic depictions of God are not, by nature, awe-inspiring, though some have been very fun. Hollywood has given us silly Gods, like George Burns in “Oh, God!” complaining about avocados — “I made the pit too big” — or Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty” singing the jingle to “The Clapper.” Literature has gone deeper and darker, with Stanley Elkin’s Borscht-belt God in “The Living End” kvetching “I never found my audience,” before wiping out the world. Somewhere in the middle of this silly-to-grim spectrum sits the narrator of the Italian writer Giacomo Sartori’s new novel, “I Am God,” who begins by announcing that, for the first time ever, He has started to think.
“Up to now I’ve never thought, and I’ve never felt the need,” He gripes, annoyed to be participating in such mundane activity. He is even keeping a diary — these pages before us — in which He rants with the gusto of someone who has kept His opinions to Himself for a very long time and finally has a chance to unload them. Much of the novel that follows is composed of His thoughts on everything from materialism and television to genetics and global warming. It’s precisely the sort of thing we might hope for from God in a novel — that He would tell us what He really thinks! — but it does set a high bar for the novelist.
Sartori’s God is male, jokey and, in Frederika Randall’s translation, fairly hokey, with a colloquial diction out of the 1950s and a propensity to wink and nudge. He calls human reason “cerebral yackety-yack,” writes off human conversation as “balderdash” and blames the yackety-yack and the balderdash for “the whole shebang of infamy and atrocities.” He points out His own puns (“I’d be in heaven once again, as they say”) and overexplains Himself in footnotes (“I want to be sure this point is crystal clear”). He mocks the Catholic Church, but shares many of the church’s more conservative views on subjects like gender (“Frailty, thy name is woman!”) and sexuality (“Progress my backside: By now pornography and homosexuality flourish unchallenged!”). He’s half heteronormative deity, half embarrassing uncle.
He is also frustrated. For reasons He can’t understand, He has fallen in love with a human woman, a “post-punk” atheist lab assistant named Daphne. (Greek mythological references are peppered throughout the book.) We quickly learn that His infatuation with this “lofty biker” and “lanky unbeliever” (she drives a motorcycle and steals and burns crucifixes as a hobby) is what has started Him thinking in the first place, and that many of His grumbly opinions about humanity are at least partly pretenses for avoiding His desirous thoughts about her. The novel’s drama lies in Daphne’s tale, which God gradually tells: the story of her own messy existence, and the mess she is making of His. Unfortunately, Daphne’s story proves a little scattered, in part because she is kept at such a remove from the reader that she never emerges as a complex, coherent character, only as an object of God’s fascination.