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False Gods

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

FALSE GODS is a unified book of short stories. In each story, the protagonist makes a choice to follow a false god, and that choice leads to the destruction of his happiness. Curiously, the choice of these false paths goes against the natural grain of these characters. The ending of each story does, however, show the protagonist making an effort to recover his earlier self.

The “False Gods” in the stories are various. The God in the first story is “War,” and in the second “The Self-Made Man.” In the first story, a protagonist is dedicated to the ideals of Jefferson, and he despises those who clamor for war. Yet he shoots down a member of the war party in a duel; the rest of his life is miserable and corrupt. The second story portrays an independent and self-made man who denies his Jewish heritage. He realizes the falseness of his life when his son dies fighting against Hitler in World War II.

Other stories tell a similar tale. In “Polyhymnia, Muse of Sacred Song,” Reggie Turner has become a Roman Catholic priest to seek a higher spirituality. However, he realizes that his true place is in society at parties and balls and not religion. In “Charity, Goddess of Our Day,” the protagonist becomes corrupt by embracing unscrupulous means to serve charity’s ends.

FALSE GODS is a satisfying book. The stories have fascinating protagonists, and we see both them and their social world fully. The style is clear, urbane, and often witty.