To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked up God’s Autobio by Rolli. I hadn’t heard a lot of talk about the book. In fact, I hadn’t really heard much at all. Frankly, I’m not sure what I expected. One thing I am sure of is that I did not expect to have this much fun reading.
Rolli seems to have a particular talent for off-hand humorous manner. There is just such a effortless, droll quality to the way that some of the stories in this book are presented that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. The very first opening paragraph from the first story of the collection, Von Clair and the Tiger, is a perfect example:
Having never been swallowed by a tiger before, Professor Von Claire wasn’t sure what to do about the situation. Strangeâ€”whenever one of his colleagues presented him with a dilemma, he could come up with ten solutions on the spot, with plenty of literary allusions, and quotes running gleefully from his pores. It had occurred to him, more than once, that this might be the reason others referred to him as “Tweedmouth,” if that was the term.
Â Seriously? This guy is swallowed by a tiger and that situation takes a backseat to his colleagues opinion about him? Frankly, the professor’s approach to the whole set of circumstances is so off-kilter from what it should be that I couldn’t help getting interested in the story. As a reader, I admit that I love the loveable oddball characters.
Nor is that the only oddball character in Rolli’s collection. The narrator in The Splendid New Crack meets a cigarette-smoking angel who offers to grant him a wish but tells him to “be quick about it.” He thinks, and then tells the angel he wants a “splendid new crack.” No, the story isn’t about a misunderstood wish. This guy actually wants another anus, and gets one right in the middle of his forehead. His reaction? He thinks it’s “awesome” and goes to use it to impress the “chickâ€¦at the local coffee shop.” Needless to say, things do not go as he plans.
This is to say nothing of Mr. Penny, the star of a whole series of stories in the book. In the story, Mr. Penny’s Poetry, Mr. Penny sees a doctor because he has become certain that his “heart’s not beating.” The following repartee ensues:
Â Â Â Â “Mmm hmm, mmm hmm. That’s aboutâ€¦a hundred and twenty,” said Dr. Singh, looking at his watch.
Â Â Â Â Mr. Penny’s eyes grew very wide. That sounded awfully expensive.
Â Â Â Â “A hundred and twenty beats,” stressed the doctor. “Per minute.”
Â Â Â Â “Ah,” said Mr. Penny. And then, “Is that good?”
Â Â Â Â “It is a little quick, Mr. Penny.”
Â Â Â Â Mr. Pennyâ€”though he often didâ€”looked a bit confused.
Â Â Â Â “So it hasn’tâ€¦stopped?” he said, at last.
Â Â Â Â Decidedly not.” said the doctor, looking over his glasses.
Â Â Â Â Mr. Penny shuddered. He’d had an aunty, a horrible woman, who used to do thatâ€”look over her glasses at him when she was angry, with her buttoney eyes. She had a kind of trembling palsy, and he was so frightened of her, as a boy, that he sometimes shook nearly as bad at the sight of her as she did. She was fond of dogs, though, and had aâ€”Mr. Penny wasn’t sure if it was a terrier, or not. He generally called all small dogs terriers; though he was fairly certain this wasn’t always the case.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â “Maybe, you couldâ€¦checkâ€¦again?” suggested Mr. Penny.
Through the various Mr. Penny stories it becomes clear that Mr. Penny in fact has a diagnosed mental condition of some kind, but it does not make his conversations or his approach to life any less delightful.
Frankly, though, my favorite story in the collection is Chimpanions. In the story, the narrator, a woman who is “pushing 70,” decides she has to get a chimpanion. For those not in the know, Â “Chimpanions (chimps + companions) were electronic robot friends.” The thing goes berserk when she first buys it, but she eventually gets it under control. However, after that, whenever someone irritates her a little too much, she shouts: “Chimpy, attack!” Of course, I find that hysterical.
As I think the above examples make abundantly clear, Rolli has a tendency to write with a certain amount of playfulness. For me, that meant that I had a lot of fun when I read these stories. Sometimes I think we forget that serious fiction can be a lot of fun. I literally drown sometimes in the sheer number of overly serious fiction choices out there. However, I think we have to spend a certain amount of time laughing in life otherwise we will all have psychotic breaks. Frankly, I spend enough time in my day being serious; I’m glad that I got to kick back and have a bit of fun with God’s Autobio.
David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver.Â He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska.Â His stories have appeared in “Grey Sparrow,” â€œChildren Churches and Daddies,â€ â€œSplit Quarterly,â€ â€œCannoli Pie,â€ â€œC4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,â€ “Atticus Review,” “Brave Blue Mice,” and “Fine Lines.”Â His book reviews have appeared in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “All Things Pankish.” Â The web site dedicated to his writing can be found atÂ http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/. Â He currently serves as a reader for “Grey Sparrow” and in his non-literary time he works as a patent attorney in Denver