God’s Autobio is an enigmatic collection of short stories, divided into three groups: “Impossible Fictions”, “Possible Fictions” and “Penny Fictions”. The first two are pretty much self-explanatory: some of the “Possible Fictions” aren’t really any more plausible than the “Impossible” ones, but plausibility in itself is not necessarily the best criteria for judging fiction. The final section contains six stories about Mr Penny, a man suffering from a brain tumour which distorts his perceptions. Although five of these are told in the third-person, the point of view reflects Mr Penny’s confused state. The result is often clunky: “Mr Penny’s Experiment”, for example, begins “Lately, Mr. Penny hadn’t been feeling well, not by a long shot“, but this is appropriate for the subject and character.
Elsewhere first-person narratives are used frequently. The “Impossible Fictions” in particular rely on a colloquial voice, which sounds like a spoken-word monologue. There is, however, a repetitive element to this: compare “So an angel comes from wherever…” with “So this man walks into the store…” and “So I became Blake’s butler…” and you’ll get the picture. Perhaps these are meant to be the same narrator: there is not enough autobiographical detail to be sure one way or the other, but the stories make this seem unlikely.
Elsewhere, certain themes and memes reoccur in different stories. Many stories refer to God, death or morality. There are references to a woman who marries to secure an inheritance. In “Chimpanions” (one of the “Impossible Fictions”) she’s an incidental character called Ms Hutchince. “Anna” (a “Possible Fiction”) tells the story of Anna Hanson who marries and divorces Robert Allen in order to inherit a million dollars from her father. “Mr Penny Meets Fernando”, meanwhile refers to “Miss Owen the widow, who married only to get her inheritance … (or so people said)“. The implication is that this is an urban myth, cropping up in different forms and locations.
The strongest story, “The Richest Fucking Old Lady in Town” has the boldest title. The expletive feels like one word too many, but every word in the title and the story is perfectly measured. Here we meet the collection’s most objectionable, but also most endearing character. A misanthropic widow, she unleashes an attack on her single-parent neighbour so vitriolic that even the most ardent conservative would struggle not to sympathise with its object. This sympathy, rather than anything in the story, creates the narrative tension. The reader shouts back at the narrator until her final line, which is so perfectly weighted it is impossible to tell whether it refers to the narrator or her neighbour.
The collection takes a while to engage the reader. The repetitions and clunky narration grate early on. Many of the shorter stories–some scarcely a page long–seem to meander to a halt. It is worth persevering with, however. As the book progresses, there is a sense of images being layered on images, creating a picture of an alternative world where nothing quite makes sense, but everything is connected, if only we could work out what the connection is.
Having spent most of his twenties trying to be a musician Jason Jawando was finally forced to give up and get a proper job. He began writing fiction and poetry in his early thirties and has been published in a number of print and online publications.