The Trouble With Assigned Readings: Gods Go Begging


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So I spent today reading “Gods Go Begging” for an ethnic lit class. I have a confession: I’m not a fan of class readings. When they’re good they’re good, when they’re okay they’re okay, but when they’re bad they are JUST SO BAD.

“Gods Go Begging” tries to intertwine a narrative of the Vietnam War with a murder in 1999 San Francisco. The trouble is that the novel has no glue–nothing holds it together. Every novel needs something to hold it together, be it a single narrator, a mystery, an overarching structure, whatever. This novel jumps from perspective to perspective without so much as a line break. The narrative of the fantastically constructed first chapter all but disappears within the first hundred pages. At one point, there is a time jump of years in a paragraph change.

The book is also wildly inconsistent, first insisting on the need and possibility of moving on (from the past, from the projects, etc), and then spinning some bullshit magical realist stuff about how the gas in the ghetto kills higher brain functions as soon as you start breathing.

It’s a long and ridiculously overwritten novel–we’re talking a single point, like “I don’t buy this democratizing Vietnam thing” being eloquently stated once, then beaten to death for two and a half pages. It’s also got villains that make Dickens look subtle, who think things like “he’s not a real person” (that’s a quote), or who manage to insult every race and gender and religion except male Lutherans in the space of twelve pages.

All of these flaws are annoying, but none of them would be driving me this insane if I wasn’t reading the book for class. I feel like I’m flogging the book to death because I just have to keep reading. If this weren’t for class I would have given up long ago, but I just have to keep going. Any joy I could possibly have taken from this blasted book is killed by the endless plod on and on and on through lines like “I’ve never seen you kiss her, he said, I’ve never seen you kiss her” (we got it the first time) and one-dimensional characters who spout bull.

And God help me, I’m still not quite finished yet.


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