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The Life of God (as Told by Himself)
Franco Ferrucci
Raymond Rosenthal and Franco Ferrucci (Translators)

University of Chicago Press, $11.95 US
Trade paperback reprint, 284 pages
Publication date: October 1997

The Life of God (as Told by Himself)
Franco Ferrucci
Franco Ferrucci teaches at Rutgers University. His other books include Saturn's Moon, Far Away from Home, The Poem of Desire: Poetics and Passion in Dante and a study of Homer, The Siege and the Return.

Review: The Life of God

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

In Ray Bradbury's short story, "The Man," a space traveler lands on a planet only hours after God had apparently visited, then sets off to other worlds in a vain attempt to catch up to Him, destined to always arrive too late. It's an apt metaphor for humanity's inherent inability to grasp the ineffability of God, despite our determined best efforts. But from the time of Job, this hasn't stopped authors from writing stories that try to figure out just what He was thinking of in creating us poor mortals. And why He hasn't done a better job in handling things since.

SF and fantasy, in particular, have obsessed about the nature of godhood. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, while generally thought of as a prescient warning about unthinking technological advancement at the dawn of the Industrial Age -- and hence one of the first works of science fiction -- is also a theological meditation on the Creator's seeming uncaring relationship to the created, as the novel's epigraph from Milton's Paradise Lost makes clear:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?
Not surprisingly, considering the source, stories about God are usually told from humanity's perspective. While James Morrow may introduce the deceased body of God in Towing Jehovah and Blameless in Abbadon to prompt further turmoil and dissension among mankind about God and His intentions, God doesn't get to tell His side of it straight out. However, as the title indicates, this is precisely the conceit of Franco Ferrucci's The Life of God (as Told by Himself). Here God is a "He" not in the traditional sense of being a Father to humanity, but rather as a creature of sexual desires, most notably in impregnating the mother of Jesus.

As you might expect, then, Ferrucci walks a fine line between clever satire and the sophomoric. For instance, when God attends the Last Supper and remarks, "The entire scene was like a stupendously inventive painting," at the same time you are laughing it might also strike you as a cheap, easy joke.

Ferrucci depicts a God who is as clueless as to the nature of creation and the meaning of it all as are you and I. He wishes He could make things better, but, particularly as He gets older (and the fact that God is a maturing being is crucial to the novel's premise), He comes to realize the futility of trying to overcome His own limitations. Yes, the reason the universe is imperfect is because God is imperfect. But don't blame Him for the trouble in the world, or the vain uses of His name. It's people who've come up with the wars and fables that totally miss the point about Him. It's people who are screwing up. He's just a blameless observer.

In the course of His "life," God communicates with the people you might expect: Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Dante, Freud, Einstein. But this God is no burning bush; He is an entity who assumes corporeal form. Which means that God also dies, although in the Hindu sense of continual reincarnation over the centuries, often without consciously choosing who He'll be in the next life. In considering what happens to mere people when they die, God has no idea. So much for the rewards of Heaven. Or the punishments of Hell, for that matter.

Don't be put off by the fact that Ferrucci is a Rutgers professor or that this was originally written in Italian. Even though it is a University of Chicago imprint, this is not some convoluted dry academic "high lit" tome. While the paperback reissue of this book is not marketed as science fiction or fantasy, it is certainly in the Morrow tradition -- funny, wise, and, for the most part, right on the money in considering the ontological problems raised by the notion of God.

After you've read God's fictional autobiography, you might want to pick up his non-fictional biography. In describing God's changing identity as it develops through the historical/literary recounting in the Old Testament, God: A Biography by Jack Miles views God in a way that in many respects parallels Ferrucci's, in particular as an evolving entity who eventually decides to remove Himself altogether from his creation. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 1998 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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