When I was a kid, I remember a lot was made of what-ifs. What if you could be invisible? What would you do? Where would you go? Where would you sneak to, in order to see things you weren’t supposed to.
Honestly, I don’t like to watch some things human beings do. But as you can imagine there’s no roof nor wall nor duck blind nor sheet nor wile that stands in the way of a god; unfortunately I must put up with all of it.
Take that idea, add an alpha and omega and you’ve got I Am God, a novel which features a God who, when He’s not reminding the reader of how powerful he is, spends his time observing a pigtailed atheist microbiologist who somehow has attracted His notice, despite Himself.
I really can’t explain why, among the many, not to say infinite, possibilities out there, my gaze always seems to come to rest on the Milky Way. And why within the Milky Way, which is really not so tiny, my sights are trained on the Solar System, and particularly on that two-bit planet that’s barely visible, Earth. And why on Earth, infinitesimal as it is and provided with many other attractions, my eye zooms in on the tall girl with two purple pigtails who at every opportunity is shoving her arm up a cow’s ass.
What we’re presented with is a sort of combination between therapist’s tape and diary: though He doesn’t know why, God has decided to keep some notes of his current predicament. More specifically, He’s drawn to Daphne, the literal cross-burning nonbeliever, and seems to be falling in love. How does an omnipotent being handle such things? Well, in this case, He’s a bit of a perv, watching the woman who remains oblivious – how could she be otherwise? – and orchestrates minor accidents for suitors who might otherwise usurp His place.
What would God do if he actually got Daphne? Are we talking Zeus-level creepery? It’s never really stated. Instead we’re presented with a being who is hit with the most human of problems, that of infatuation which moves one to the extremity of indecision and ability.
I am God, and I have no need to think. Up to now I’ve never thought, and I’ve never felt the need, not in the slightest. The reason human beings are in such a bad way is because they think; thought is by definition sketchy and imperfect—and misleading.
It’s easy to see that the romance is just an excuse for most of Sartori’s exposition. It’s a nice conceit, sure, but what’s really happening here is a large-scale (unfathomable!) character sketch, presented in His Own Words. What’s presented is a God who’s unhappy with the write-ups in the Bible, who isn’t sure that Jesus is his son, and who is so cocksure of his abilities that a perceived chink in His armour – this bloody obsession – has upset the balance of the universe.
Don’t ask me how I came to be God, because I myself have no idea. Or rather I do know, just as I know everything, but it would take eons to put into words, and quite frankly, I don’t think it’s worth it. My rank (let’s call it that) alone guarantees a certain degree of credibility.
I quite enjoy the way Sartori’s version of God is a bit like the one on show in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!: self-involved and truculent. Thoughtless. I think that it keeps the character in line with biblical representation, while taking the wind out of His sails, which is important as many portraits of the Creator often hinge around them being a woman, or manifestly different from written sources. Here, He’s presented as he’s been interpreted by atheism: as a petty, easily distracted man-child of a deity, and thus more human. Indeed, I think Sartori’s take on the whole “man was made in God’s image” thing is that if He existed, He’s like us not in appearance, but in motivation: easily swayed, subject to moods and most importantly, subject to wildly overestimating His abilities.
A lot of reviewers seemed to be taken aback by the occasional homophobia in the novel. While I guess it could reflect Sartori’s own views, I suspect it’s a hat-tip to the interpretation of homosexuality that’s risen in theology: God speaks of having “nothing against” queer experience, though he’s unhappy with it, even though scholars have gone to town much more on the idea of God’s Wrath For Those Who Don’t Like What We Think They Should Like. Though I could be wildly misreading it, I think it comes across that God doesn’t like the idea because he thinks his take on how humans should interact is superior and should therefore be followed. This fits completely with the character as presented through the rest of the novel: of the belief that His interpretation of things is necessarily the best, and others are obviously wrong can’t you seeeee?
(Admittedly, I write this as a cishet male, so I will readily admit that my take comes a distant second to the lived experience of queer readers: this is just how it read to me.)
I really enjoyed this book. Rather than blasphemous (though I can think of people who would find it so, and assume that publication in Italy was probably beset with more outrage than elsewhere) I found it to be enjoyable and a bit humanising. I suppose, having been raised Catholic I’m a bit more in on the joke than other readers might be, but there’s a lot to enjoy here even if you don’t know your saints from Shinola. Give it a go: what’s the worst that can happen?
(I mean, you could be struck by lightning or turned into a pillar of salt, but that would be an extreme reaction, even for an all-powerful being.)