From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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This first short story collection is approachable and entertaining on many levels, because it includes a strange and either funny or disturbing cast of characters, all of whom explore, in one way or another, their connection to the universe and the Almighty. The first story, "The War of the Bernsteins," pits a technically pious man against his rebellious and frustrated wife, and the descriptions of their internal "spiritual mathematics" is reminiscent of some of Woody Allen's short pieces. "Holocaust Tips for Kids" is, as expected, chilling and maudlin but also somehow humbling, putting everything in an unusual perspective. Some of the other stories seem to verge on gimmicky, but for the most part, Auslander avoids cheap laughs, his point in these stories being that all of us, deeply observant of our faith or not, take the doctrine and ritualistic trappings of organized religion far too seriously. Debi LewisCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved