What in God's Name - review - Simon Rich
In Simon Rich’s hilarious and touching second novel, God isn’t dead. He’s simply dead tired. As the longtime CEO of Heaven, Inc. — the bureaucratic organization responsible for, um, everything — God becomes worried that ”his best days were behind him.” So instead of trying to keep the increasingly fickle human race pleased, he makes an executive decision to destroy Earth altogether via fire or ice (he can’t decide), which would allow him to devote his attention to his newest passion: opening an Asian-American fusion restaurant in his celestial kingdom.
Yet the deity’s retirement plan hits a speed bump. Craig and Eliza, a pair of idealistic angels with unspoken crushes on each other, strike a deal with God: If they can fulfill one earthly prayer within 30 days, the world will be spared. Their assignment? To romantically set up Sam Katz and Laura Potts, two interminably reserved 23-year-old NYU grads living in the same neighborhood.
At first glance, the plot comes off as overly precious, if not downright twee. But rest assured that you’re in good hands here. At 28, the young author has already amassed an impressive CV; after his tenure as president of The Harvard Lampoon, he wrote for blue-chip brands like Saturday Night Live and The New Yorker, and his debut novel, 2010’s coming-of-age comedy Elliot Allagash, is being adapted into a movie by Juno director Jason Reitman.
So obviously Rich is crazy good at hysterical sharp dialogue. But the bonus here is that his head is matched by his heart. Rich lends the potentially gimmicky story real emotional heft and avoids condescending to his characters (or readers). At its best, What in God’s Name reads like a screenplay for a film that might sit comfortably beside Woody Allen’s early absurd works in a Netflix queue. Still, there are moments when Rich’s conceit loses steam — especially toward the end, when his ticking-time-bomb, race-against-the-apocalypse scenario seems to last an eternity. B+