cover image BEWARE OF GOD

BEWARE OF GOD

Shalom Auslander, Author . Simon & Schuster $19.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7432-6456-3

The faithful look sharp or fall victim to a "surly, bossy, paranoid, violent" God in Auslander's satirical debut collection. The author, raised an Orthodox Jew, mercilessly spoofs the Old Testament deity: God suffers from migraines, stalks a modern-day prophet and appears as a large chicken, among other incarnations. Though harsh rabbinic voices echo throughout, and characters who engage in Talmudic-style debate usually arrive at absurd conclusions, Auslander's target isn't religious hypocrisy. Instead, he guns for sacred cows: literal interpretations of the Torah, strict adherence to Jewish law, and belief in an all-powerful deity who metes out punishment and reward according to man's fulfillment of God's commandments. At the heart of this satire, though, is the pain of true believers at the mercy of a capricious God. These are high-concept stories: a chimpanzee suddenly achieves "total conscious self-awareness.... God. Death. Shame. Guilt"—a burden he cannot bear. A yeshiva student wakes one morning with a brawny, goyishe body and is reviled by his community. A man enrages all major world religions with his discovery of original Old Testament tablets preceded by the disclaimer, "The following is a work of fiction." Occasionally, the Catskills-inflected comedy is corny, but for the most part, Auslander skillfully handles heavy subject matter with a droll tone. "Beautiful day," an adman says, making small talk at a pitch meeting with God. " 'I made it myself,' God answered loudly." (Apr.)