Thursday, October 17, 1996

The Life of God (as Told by Himself), by Franco Ferrucci

A review of The Life of God (as Told by Himself), by Franco Ferrucci
Published October 17th, 1996, in The Minnesota Daily’s A&E Magazine

Heaven is a Place Where
Nothing Ever Happens

By Franco Ferrucci
University of Chicago Press, $22

Question: In all of Western literature, what character is the most widely scrutinized, admired, deplored, and debated? Who, finding a way into nearly every novel, story, and essay, resounds more widely and more deeply than any other? (Hint: It’s not Holden Caulfield) Why, God, of course—Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, the Big G Himself.

Whether playing the all-powerful (if inconsistently characterized) war god in the Hebrew Scriptures, the resplendent deity in Dante’s Paradiso, or the petty technocrat in Carol Hill’s The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer, God just won’t stay out of our literature.

Now, Italian writer and critic Franco Ferrucci takes Him on again in his new novel, The Life of God (as Told by Himself). The book originally came out in Italian in 1986, drawing raves from the Italian critics—notably Umberto Eco—and Ferrucci has finally translated it, with the help of the now late Raymond Rosenthal, into English.

Drawing mostly from the Bible and Classical literature, Ferrucci re-imagines the often misconstrued (and always male) deity as a kind of clueless schlemiel. He has little power—He can create, but He can’t control—and He can’t seem to get a grip on His own existence.

In this account, the rhetoric of the vengeful, petty God of the Pentateuch (and latter-day evangelists) proves inaccurate; this God is more interested in understanding His universe than lording over it. He’s just like us: He ponders creation; He falls in Love; He gets depressed, even suicidal. The Bible got a few things right, though: God has a terrible memory, and He’s often so wrapped up in Himself that He misses great lengths of earthly history:

For long stretches at a time I forget that I am God. But then, memory isn’t my strong suit. It comes and goes with a will of its own.

The last time it came back to me I was sunk in one of those late-winter depressions. Then one night I switched on the television set, and a fire of events burst before my eyes.

Jumping in and out of history at will, God meets all the big names—Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Dante, Einstein—and gives the reader a full lowdown on each. He views Moses as more of a bureaucrat than a prophet and deplores the absurd list of rules he sets out as holy writ. And although God admits Jesus as His son (Catholics beware: It’s not exactly an immaculate conception), He sees no real reason why Jesus has to martyr himself.

But the novel’s subtle layering causes God’s criticism of these visionaries to fall back on Himself. He simply wants people to be happy, to enjoy the wonders of His universe, but He hasn’t equipped them for happiness or understanding. He can’t even be happy Himself. So it’s up to Moses to find a way of making sense of the world, even if it’s through petty rules and regulations.

Jesus also emerges vindicated, even though he’s more of a trickster and manipulator than a deity. He sees humanity’s need for a savior and provides a tangible—if slightly bogus—connection to the mysterious, which is more than the philosophically paralyzed God ever does.

Still, despite His shortcomings, God comes off as a pretty decent fellow. He doesn’t demand that we kill each other over holy land, condemn the so-called immoral, or even go to church. He simply asks that we try to get along and enjoy what He’s given us. Interestingly, this attitude sounds a lot like secular humanism, which, coming from God, may be one of the richest and most instructive ironies in religious literature.

This novel’s great triumph, however, is its terrifying and illuminating re-evaluation of traditional eschatology. Achieving nearly Biblical resonance, The Life of God (as Told by Himself) brilliantly depicts the growing incompatibility between God and His creation. Ferrucci has produced a near-masterpiece of anti-apocalyptic prophecy.

—David Wiley

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