Picks and Pans Review: God Knows

updated 10/15/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/15/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Joseph Heller

Reading this new novel by the author of Catch-22 is like being trapped in a traffic jam with a New York taxi driver who won't shut up. Only the character in this case is King David of Israel, indulging himself, via the miracle of fiction, in 353 pages of whining complaints. Intermittently funny, the book is more often blasphemous, tiresome, repetitive. As he lies dying, the old king of the Jews recounts the events of his life and the lives of his ancestors—Abraham, Moses, Joseph. Furnished with a serving girl who tries to warm him up, David wants only Bathsheba, a bleached-blond shrew relentless in her determination to get her (and David's) son Solomon on the throne. It is Heller's idea of a joke that Solomon's reputation as a poet and a wise man come from lifting his father's material. But David's big problem is God; he's mad at Him. David is Jewish, for one thing, and God is not. David thinks that the famous Michelangelo statue of him is ludicrous because the young giant killer is depicted as uncircumcised. The old King thinks he looks far more like Michelangelo's bearded Moses. David is also furious about rumors that he and Jonathan were more than friends. The Old Testament gets a thorough reworking. Anachronisms are rife in David's recollections: " 'They say He is coming,' said my recorder Jehoshaphat. 'So is Christmas!' I retorted...' " If God Knows ultimately seems a much-too-long, offensive joke, it is also the work of an original imagination. There are moments of surprising tenderness, such as David's meeting with the sweet Abigail. In any event the book is certainly not going to be recommended by any Sunday school teacher. (Knopf, $16.95)

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