Home > Book Reviews > Book Review – The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch

Book Review – The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch

I can’t write a review of Tom Disch’s last novel The Word of God very easily, if at all, mainly because it’s not a novel at all. What it is is a strange, rambling, even chaotic collection of essays and stories on a number of interrelated issues. For those not in the know, Disch ended his life (by shotgun, no less) shortly after this book was released, in 2008. He was 68. One of my motivations for reading this was that I had heard that the book was in part an attack on the author’s long time nemesis, Philip K. Dick. And indeed there is a fair bit of material on PKD here, and not too much of it is complimentary.

Disch’s main assertion here, of course, is that he is God, and that this book represents holy writ. Okay. I’m an atheist so I don’t really care, and at any rate Disch’s tone is flippant throughout. In between these rants are stories of PKD in Hell, Disch’s ‘real’ father Thomas Mann, and even Philip Roth. It’s all pleasantly metafictional. My second reason for attempting to read this was that I recently enjoyed Disch’s most recent (and as it turned out, last) collection of stories, The Wall of America, which like this was published by Tachyon Publications. Disch is an outstanding writer and moreover, he is the only writer I can think of who routinely makes me feel like a dullard, like I am falling behind, like I had better listen to what the teacher is saying. Disch does that to me.

But The Word of God isn’t much of a novel, I’m afraid. It’s about on a par with Vonnegut’s last novel, Timequake. In both cases, the late work is a pale imitation of earlier masterpieces (in Disch’s case, Camp Concentration, 334 and one of my favourites, his first, The Genocides). Disch goes to some length to have PKD get his comeuppance (as an aside, it seems that the emnity between the writers stems from PKD denouncement of Disch to the FBI. It wasn’t the craziest thing PKD did.) and thus he has Phil branded a traitor, sent to Hell and condemned as a hack for all eternity. Honestly, I’m on PKD’s side here.

Disch was a true original, and almost certainly too clever by half for the likes of me. I have an ambivalent attitude toward his work though. Occasionally I love it, sometimes I hate it, and all too often it seems I am experiencing both emotions simultaneously. But no one can say that the man couldn’t write.

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