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A new world

God Is Dead A Novel Ron Currie Jr. Viking: 182 pp., $21.95

July 08, 2007|Tod Goldberg | Tod Goldberg is the author, most recently, of the short story collection "Simplify."

NO one wants to die an ironic death, least of all God. Yet that's the fate that awaits the Creator when he returns in Ron Currie Jr.'s impressive debut, "God Is Dead." Taking the form of Sora, a Dinka woman from the Sudan, God wanders the deserts of Darfur in search of Thomas Mawien, an enslaved boy, hoping to apologize for not listening to the boy's prayers due to an "implacable polytheistic bureaucracy."

What God finds, however, is a landscape turned to hell, where even his most fervent desires for reconciliation are met with failure. The marauding janjaweed torch the landscape God walks, leaving nothing alive in their wake, until God, racked by injury, disease and shame, dies alone in the dirt, wishing for "someone he could pray to," only to be eaten by a pack of feral dogs.

It's a riveting end to the life of God, but only the first of many surprises Currie delivers. The book is essentially a novel-in-stories, analyzing the aftermath of God's death in nine short chapters. It follows this new world of man from confusion (including a mass suicide of clergy) to chaos and onward into the oblivion of a prolonged holy war between scientific factions: Evolutionary Psychologists and Postmodern Anthropologists.

Currie's strength rests in his ability to focus humanity's conundrums on the smallest physical particles. In the story "Indian Summer," college friends embark on a grisly suicide pact in the aftermath of God's death, realizing there is "no why," only to find that life, even without God, is filled with emotional consequences. It's a visceral discovery that Currie handles initially with black comedy, until the image of college boys with guns and a latent desire to kill reverberates through the pages and into our difficult present reality.

Likewise prescient is "False Idols," which details our society's descent into a quasi religious adoration of children, necessitating the creation of the Child Adulation Prevention Agency to cure zealous parents who, in a vacuum of belief and "too much free time on Sundays," deify their offspring.

The impression may be that Currie handles these issues with a light touch, but the truth he presents is that the world has become absurd; he is merely delivering a steady-cam view.

In the book's finest moment -- an interview with one of the feral dogs that ate God's corpse only to wake the next day enlightened and speaking a "mishmash of Greek and Hebrew" -- the reader is left to ponder a profound metaphysical mystery: If God is dead, can one live a life without larger reason? Can humanity exist like a dog, living from one meal to the next, each day a crawl to survive, no heaven above? Currie avoids answers and thus avoids sermons, opting instead to trust that his readers have already contemplated their own resolutions. The product is horrifying, kinetic and familiar to anyone who watches the terror-ticker on CNN and wonders whether we are already living among the dead. *

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