Violent rabbis, lovelorn wives, a busy Grim Reaper, shame-filled simians, and one seriously angry deity populate this humorous and disquieting collection. Shalom Auslander's stories in Beware of God have the mysterious punch of a dream. They are wide ranging and inventive: A young Jewish man's inexplicable transformation into a very large, blond, tattooed goy ends with a Talmudic argument over whether or not his father can beat his unclean son with a copy of the Talmud. A pious man having a near-death experience discovers that God is actually a chicken, and he's forced to reconsider his life -- and his diet. At God's insistence, Leo Schwartzman searches Home Depot for supplies for an ark. And a young boy mistakes Holocaust Remembrance Day as emergency preparedness training for the future. Auslander draws upon his upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York State to craft stories that are filled with shame, sex, God, and death, but also manage to be wickedly funny and poignant.
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.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Simon & Schuster
March 27, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Beware of God by Shalom Auslander
These are the things that Bernstein carried in the brown, broken suitcase he kept under his bed in the hope that the Messiah would arrive in the middle of the night: two pairs of black socks, one pair of black pants, a white shirt, one Book of Psalms, some rugalach, three yarmulkes, a spare set of phylacteries, two prayer shawls (one for weekdays, one for Sabbath) and a bathing suit because you never know.
"In the World to Come," the rabbis would say to Bernstein, "there will be eternal happiness and joy."
"In the World to Come," Bernstein would say to his wife, "there will be eternal happiness and joy."
"I'm sorry you're so miserable here," Mrs. Bernstein replied from her post before the kitchen sink.
Bernstein lived every moment of this life in hopeful preparation for the next. Forty-five years of Torah study had convinced him not only of the sordidness of this world, but of the perfection and euphoria of the World to Come. As he got older, and that world steadily approached, Bernstein became ever more careful. Just last month, he had celebrated his fiftieth birthday.
"You're halfway to dead!" joked the birthday card Mrs. Bernstein had left for him. Mrs. Bernstein had a suitcase under her bed, too, but it wasn't packed for the Messiah.
Bernstein decided that with half his life already over, he was running out of time to score points. From now on, every action he took and every deed he considered would be put through a thorough cost/benefit analysis of reward versus punishment.
If he found himself to be too tired for morning services, he would remind himself of just how many rewards he'd receive in the World to Come if he could only get out of bed. He measured the lure of a one-time bacon double cheeseburger against the everlasting joy of love and peace. He weighed sitting in a buddy booth at the Show World Peep Center with an erection in his hand against sitting among the holy forefathers in the Garden of Eden with a crown of eternal love on his head.
The spiritual mathematics consumed him.
Was obeying a negative prohibition worth the same amount of reward in the World to Come as fulfilling a positive commandment? Would the inaction of negative prohibitions really be as rewarded as the deliberate action of positive commandments? If they were, could Bernstein simply not do those things that were negatively prohibited in this world and still be rewarded handsomely in the next, rather than actively doing those things that were positively commanded only to receive pretty much the same reward in the World to Come as if he had simply not done that which had been negatively prohibited? Would he actually be rewarded for not doing something, or would he just not receive the punishment he would have received if he had violated the negative prohibition? Then again, if the commandment was positive and he would receive punishment for not doing it, then would he receive rewards for doing it? Or was it just the not doing it that God was concerned with?
It gave Bernstein a terrible headache.
Mrs. Bernstein was only thirty-four years old last May, and was thus far more concerned with her lot in this world than with her lot in what was, in her own estimation, a decidedly dubious next.
"Let's go to the movies," Mrs. Bernstein said one boring Sunday afternoon.
Bernstein thought of all the cursing and immorality and nudity he might witness on the big screen, and how much euphoria in the World to Come it would cost him. Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.
"Nah," said Bernstein.
He briefly wondered if by renting The Ten Commandments he could be said to have fulfilled the commandment to fill your heart and mind with Torah all the day and all the night.
"Well, if we're staying home anyway," Mrs. Bernstein said, "let's make love." She grabbed him playfully around his waist. "Right here," she said, "in the kitchen!" Bernstein thought about how many rules of modesty that would cause him to violate, and how much ecstasy in the World to Come it could possibly cost him. And the Lord said, because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous.
"I'm tired," Bernstein said.
Mrs. Bernstein decided that if Bernstein thought she was going to waste her life securing his front-row seat in the afterlife, he had another thing coming. And it wasn't euphoria.
She decided to fight blessings with curses, piety with profanity. For every commandment, there was a prohibition. For every reward, there was a punishment. For every mitzvah, there was an equal and opposite aveyrah.
She bought a red silk nightie at Victoria's Secret and wore it casually around the house. She would cause him two sinful thoughts for every pious one in his thoughtless little head.