978-0-618-38793-9 / 9780618387939

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About the book:

The blunt minimalism of C. Michael Curtis's title is more or less correct. That is, the 30 stories he has assembled in God are all explorations of religious faith. But given the cast of contributors--which includes James Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, and Eudora Welty--no reader should expect a celebration of spiritual orthodoxy. Indeed, these stories seldom take faith as a given. Half the time their authors seem to echo St. Augustine's famous plea: "Help me in my unbelief." And even the believers sometimes settle for the consolation prize of empty (if comforting) ritual.

The oldest story in the collection, James Joyce's "Grace," manages single-handedly to embody most of these contradictions. And why not? Here's an author, after all, who noisily severed all his ties to the Catholic Church--only to find its distinctive, Jesuitical fingerprints on almost every word he wrote. "Grace," then, is mainly a satirical take on the sheer unlikeliness of grace itself. Yet the last scene, in which the hard-drinking vulgarian Mr. Kernan has finally been lured to a church retreat, has more than a grain of awe mixed in among the ridicule. "There's a nice Catholic for you!" declares the reprobate's wife--and defies you to figure out precisely who the joke is on.

Joyce's heirs, in this sense, are fellow-contributors J.F. Powers and Tobias Wolff. The former--one of the most criminally undersung figures in American letters--is represented by the gently comical "Zeal." (Note that he and Joyce could have swapped titles without batting an eyelid.) But there are some true believers in the house, too. The southern gothic hilarity of Flannery O'Connor's "Parker's Back" should deceive nobody: this is a deadly serious excursion into the intricacies of faith, complete with a restaging of St. Paul's conversion (a balky tractor fills in for the horse). And even so worldly an author as John Updike takes his religion straight, with hardly a dash of secular bitters. In "Made in Heaven," in fact, our raciest theological mind comes up with the following delicate formulation, prompted by a glance at the night sky:

How little, little to the point of nothingness, he was under those stars!... And yet, it was he who was witnessing the stars. They knew nothing of themselves, so in this dimension he was greater than they. As far as he could reason, religion begins with this strangeness, this standstill; faith tips the balance in favor of the pinpoint.
Faith is seldom so literally heaven-sent. But in this fine anthology, it makes for many fine and several miraculous works of fiction. --James Marcus

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