Tell God I Don’t Exist
A book Review by Rachel Wooley
Full disclosure: I know Timmy Reed. We started University of Baltimore’s MFA program the same year, though he finished this year. “Tell God I Don’t Exist” is his thesis collection, which he wrote, designed, and laid out entirely himself before releasing it to the general public in May of 2013. In a lot of ways, the cover is the perfect representation of what’s inside: brief, colorful, imaginative stories together in a sort of abstract dream world; each story is separate and distinct but could take place in the same universe, which is just a little off-kilter.
The longest story is just over 10 pages; the shortest, a paragraph. Each features a narrator who seems to be struggling with his (or sometimes perhaps her – it’s not always made explicit) sense of displacement in his particular universe. Even in their disenchantment, these characters find something to marvel at or feel some sense of wonder toward – a wonder that is almost child-like in many of the pieces (and indeed, some of the narrators are children), though sometimes this wonder wanders into the realm of fear or discomfort. Oftentimes, the catalyst is an animal: moles, bees, tigers, tortoises, squirrels, dogs, birds, and even the lesser-known tardigrade, or water bear (a micro-animal so called because of its interesting resemblance, despite its eight legs, to a grizzly bear) all make appearances in these stories. “Sometimes when I felt lonely or disconnected, I needed to think about animals,” says the narrator in the story Hunting Water Bears. “I felt like they knew something I didn’t and if I thought about them I could learn a piece of it.” Many of the collection’s other characters seem to feel this sentiment, at least on some level. And sometimes, the more fantastical appears: giants, or an ill mermaid, or a “tiny man like an elf” who gives the narrator in Ruins a brilliant piece of advice that the world, he decides, isn’t ready for.
The prose itself is refreshingly unique. The sentences layer themselves into often-unexpected situations, expressing themselves with a clarity that never makes you feel lost, despite the rabbit holes (or perhaps mole tunnels) that they often lead you through. The experiences in each feel tangible, despite the dream-like way in which they often unfold. I hesitate to say that any of the stories cross completely into absurdity, but they sometimes nudge against it.
More serious themes weave their way through the book as well: Reed’s narrators struggle with destruction, impermanence, loss, and transition. Sometimes these themes are presented in an obvious, exaggerated way: in “Water into Dust,” the narrator has a P.O. named Mrs. HURTTT who “is eleven feet tall, a status I would classify as no less than Giant… She lives in a cave behind the county jail.” (Maybe I was wrong about the absurdity bit). In others, it’s much more subtle, the after-image you’re left with when the story is over and the animals have gone on their way.
Overall, it’s a great reminder that there’s more than us humans living on this planet, and that even we’re not permanent. The book is in no way didactic about this; in fact, the narrators’ various interactions and experiences might make you want to go out and cultivate your own mole community – just don’t do it in a friend’s back yard.
Both Timmy Reed and Rachel Wooley are regular contributors to Monologging.org. To read more about Tell God I Don’t Exist and to purchase a copy, visit Timmy’s website: UnderratedAnimals.