The Trouble With Being God by William Aicher

The set-up for The Trouble with Being God is pretty enticing.  On the back of the book is a reader review, stating, “It’s not often that a book can keep you so interested and make you think, You know I’ve never really looked at it like that.”  The dedication inside reads, “For my wife, Hope, who  was so disturbed by the book that she still has not been able to read the entire thing.”  Finally, on William Aicher’s site for the book is a list of suggested reading, which includes many of the recent non-fiction tomes on atheism.

Put that all together and you might be expecting a highly-disturbing novel that makes you think deeply about the nature of God.  While this book is highly-entertaining – a true page-turner – it doesn’t entirely fill the requirements of being a shocking polemic on atheism.

First: is it shocking?  The novel begins with the brutal murder of a Catholic priest – a scene described in gory detail.  In this day and age, the murders in this book – while grotesque – aren’t much more shocking to the system than the series of murders in the movie “Seven.”  They’re effective and well-drawn, but nothing that is entirely shocking to the system, given how violent movies and horror fiction has been for some time.

Second: atheism.  This is what really drew me to the book, as I was interested in seeing how a discussion about the nature of god would be weaved into a psychological thriller.  This was achieved mostly through the characters’ discussions on God and religion.  In other words, the concept of atheism is not revealed so much by the characters’ actions but just in tangential discussions by the characters, which is not nearly as effective.  For example:

“Don’t you get it?  Jesus loves me, because the Bible says so?  What the hell is that?  I think if you’re going to have something to base your belief system on, it shouldn’t be just because you read it in a book.  That’s the problem with religion, more specifically organized religion…”

Given that the person speaking – Steven, the lead character – may or may not be totally losing his mind and responsible for the murders he’s covering for the local paper, his perspective on the nature of God is not entirely convincing.

As an aside – the character’s theories about atheism are something I take issue with regarding other writers on atheism: the notion that because religion is corrupt then God can’t exist.  These things are totally separate, as the machinations of organized religion are not necessarily the direct line to spiritual understanding.  But anyway: that’s a personal criticism of atheism, not of this novel.  That the book is able to bring about this type of internal discussion shows that it has succeeded on some level – even if it doesn’t necessarily make the case for or against atheism very persuasively.

Putting all that aside, as a novel about a reporter covering a series of brutal murders, this is an enormously fast-paced, thought-provoking, and entertaining read.  Steven covers the murders for the newspaper, his personal life unravels, and his behavior becomes progressively more erratic – making for a multi-layered mystery into who committed these murders.  The movie “Seven” is a good comparison – as that was a story about a serial killer that was also a study on the nature of sin, and even celebrity. If this book was fleshed out, it could be on that level.

The novel is not a flawless book by any means.  At times, the girlfriend/boyfriend relationship seems unnecessarily bleak – a whole lot of bickering and cruelty.  And some of the characters’ actions lack consistency – nice one moment and mean the next.  There are some problems with shifting points of view within chapters.  But overall, this is a great read.  Feels like the first novel of someone you’re going to be hearing about a lot in the future.

Visit WilliamAicher.com – he’s also a strong advocate for self-publishing.

  • Henry, I enjoyed this review. You may share some of my interests: the intersection of literary with philosphical, or commercial with spiritual, in the world of fiction. I agree that one does not accomplish delivery of philosophical truths by simply having characters spout them. And thank you for pointing out the oft-seen fallacy: “I feel hurt by (angry at) you believers so I reject what you believe in.” I explore that idea a bit in at least one of my short stories.

    I admit I haven’t read Aicher’s book, but it seems unfortunate to align atheism (a label too fraught with misinterpretation) with cruelty, bleakness, dysfunctional relationships, violence. Especially if you’re trying to make a pro-atheism statement.

    Looking forward to reading more of your reviews–