By Selma Sergent
God’s Autobio by Rolli is a collection of short stories. They are surrealist and sublime in spirit; idiosyncratic, illusory and marvelous.
Rolli’s collection begins with the impressive Von Claire & The Tiger with Professor Von Claire who has been swallowed by a tiger reciting Blake in the deep recesses of the tiger’s stomach. The tiger’s stomach is littered with the detritus of former victims and:
“To judge by the preponderance of tweed and briefcases, the great animal had a fondness for academics.”
The humour is refreshing and in some cases makes the reader laugh aloud; but there is a light edge of critical thought too, a hint of the moral stance seen in Jonah and the Whale and possibly Aesop and his fables.
The Professor is given a chance to save himself, to come up with a reason the tiger shouldn’t eat him; but despite the Professor’s outlining of the importance of his academic research and his charitable works, the tiger remains unmoved:
“The world’s a pretty miserable place, and your petty contributions, and the pooled contributions of a million other petty sources, won’t rectify that; they amount to squat.”
The Professor claims he can change but the tiger concludes he cannot and that is the end of that.
This collection contains twenty six tales that could be described as fanciful, extraordinary, whimsical, surreal and maybe just a little bit wicked. However, the word that came to mind when I first read Rolli’s collection was fabulous. Not in a fashionista-I’ve-just-got-a-new-pair-of-Louboutins kind of way but in the true meaning of fabulous where there is a sense of largeness, the incredible, the exotic, the elaborate all wound into an intricately bound, ornate whole.
Rolli’s world is inhabited by unexpected juxtapositions, elements of surprise and slightly skewed worlds which in a strange way highlight the philosophical standpoints of the stories, making them cleaner, crisper.
The characters stand out. They are eccentric and dynamic at the same time, walking through their fantastical worlds with coherence and boldness. There is the street smart New Yorker type in The Man With The Ridiculously Huge Coupon, the butler, gelid and diligent in I Am A Butler and the aging, breathless Mr. Penny in the series entitled Penny’s Fictions.
And then there is God, appearing in the eponymous God’s Autobio.
“I’d always thought of God as an Englishman…”
The whimsy of this statement holds a lot of weight upon closer examination because God as an Englishman fits. Drinking tea, smelling faintly of bergamot (the main ingredient in Earl Grey), inhabiting a room full of bookcases – somehow God painted this way seems right. Rolli melds the satirical and the familiar in this skillfully crafted tale.
Writing God’s autobiography would probably be the most enormous undertaking in the history of mankind but imagine if it happened, imagine if it went a little something like this:
‘ “It’ll serve as a revised and improved Bible for the current
generation—only this time, with no balderdash. I realize, now, that using the same text for such a very long time was a mistake; the Testaments come across as a little too antiquated and Middle-east- ern these days. A good yarn and a few miracles might have amused the masses a thousand years back, but nowadays people require something more, something with grit and honesty and razzle-dazzle. A confessional. A tell-all. A How I Did It, and How YOU Can Worship My Achievement (in Ten Easy Steps). “ ‘
Rolli’s table of contents divides his stories into the categories of Possible and Impossible Fictions. I see this not as a divide but as possibility standing at the edges of impossibility. There are the psychotic, robotic chimps lurking in Chimpanions staring down the sweet, sad loneliness of the big city in Tonight. There is the talking bust of Pierre Trudeau in The Irrepressible Head of Pierre Elliott Trudeau sitting opposite the ache of the plainness of a woman in Anna.
And then there is I Am A Whale catching me off guard with its tenderness. It is touching and affecting.
“Aegean Sea. The very name is peace. Conclusion. I am told not everyone finds it, this place they seek. Many must die, or become lost, abandoning their search. But it’s the dream, the last ambition of every whale, to find it.”
I would like to think that the possible and the impossible combine to create a truly mythical world that we might just be able to inhabit in God’s Autobio. The word mythical has its origin in Latin – fabulosus – which means celebrated in fable and I think that’s what Rolli has done with his collection; he has provided us with a means to celebrate the world. The celebration may be real or unreal; but it is always, definitively, fabulous.
* Rolli is a Canadian writer, poet and artist. He is a recipient of the John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award and was one of the winners of the 2008/2009 Commonwealth Short Story Competition.
I am a former teacher and musician. I have worked as an editor and writer for several small publishers in Sydney, Australia. I have had some short stories published, as well as two plays. I also mess about with fiction on my blog. Once I was a hairsbreadth away from a publishing deal with a major publishing house. I have too many full length novels in my filing cabinet waiting to be submitted. I understand the vagaries of the writing life yet remain passionate about writers and writing. The world with all its flaws continues to inspire me.