If God’s Autobio, by Rolli, is to be described as any singular thing, it is easily a thesis on voice. A tremendous list of characters inhabits the stories, from the pompous banal to the British Almighty, each an immediate identity which is less introduced and more splashed upon the page in a gleeful display of certainty. Characters are eager to and expertly capable of building themselves a lavish home in the reader’s thoughts, often in such an abbreviated length of page as to seem a magician’s trick.
Such certainty poses risks, though, and at times where the voice of a story appears determined to be violently its own self, another character has already inhabited that same harshness. Yet, any familiarity is delightfully shattered by a surrealism or, later, a gentle madness that accumulates and differentiates each story as they progress.
At first, I could barely distinguish myself from the medium in which I traveled; but it seemed that, the higher I rose, the more individual I felt, and the more solid.
These words, aptly spoken by God himself referring to his own creation in the collection’s eponymous short, exemplify the experience of reading God’s Autobio. The first line of the first story drops the reader into a strange and disorienting world where proportions are grossly distorted and impossibilities are treated as uncontested fact, but one is able to right themselves and grow comfortable and confident in the surroundings presented. I found myself delighted by a screaming, robotic chimpanzee, chewing and tearing floral drapes, as though the scenario had been my own long-unrealized dream.
There are the occasional hiccups. Of the twenty-six stories in the collection, a couple of the “Impossible” ones are of such brevity, barely over a page, and of such an absurd and ridiculous nature that, in contrast to the enormity of the book, they resemble a sort of vulgar hyperbole. The insights and clever moments of unintuitive connection inherent in much of the book do not have the time, or perhaps interest, to be equally represented across all stories. These weaker spots are, however, the exception to a dominant rule.
The book later eases the reader back into familiar settings and more easily convincing situations, but even these have a touch of exciting oddity which provides the collection a unified feel. By the final section, a selection of shorts featuring a “Mr. Penny,” I was so craving the intriguing and new that the common character inhabiting these stories couldn’t help but elicit some sense of disappointment. However, the stories deliver the same quality of individuality found throughout, and ultimately merge all three sections with a poignantly surreal conclusion befitting of the book’s title.
Instances of profundity and hilarity pervade the collection with a feverish regularity. Even the heavier topics of charity, religion, and self-worth, while sometimes forceful enough to resemble a schizoid sermon, always feel fresh and destructively important. The book preaches at times, sure, but with the charisma and psychosis of a cult leader, and in its entirety, one the reader can hardly hope to resist.
After reading this book, I’m left with the impression that I have been lectured and entertained by a number of individuals whose knowledge has been collected by some sensory organ I lack. The stories in God’s Autobio inhabit my own world, but exist in such bent and hidden crevices that this collection of work feels not only enjoyable, but necessary.
Review by HFR Assistant Editor Jason Carnahan.