I first knew Joshua McCarthy as a cast member of the little known film “The Life and Times of Andrew Quinn.” The movie was my then-boyfriend, now-husband Mike’s first effort as writer and director of a feature length film. At the time Mike was already hard at work on the script for his next film and Josh was a long-time friend. I knew Josh as a struggling actor based in New York City, a reliable and constant friend to my husband.
I’ve only known Josh for a few years, but it wasn’t until his novel was published for e-readers that I knew he even had aspirations to become a novelist. I was a bit disappointed to see that God, Sex, Drugs, & Suicide was only available for virtual consumption as I am unwaveringly partial to books in print. Luckily, I only had a short wait until the novel was published in traditional book form and available for purchase via Amazon.
I was equally excited and nervous to read Josh’s novel when it arrived at our house. Whenever a creative friend asks you to partake in one of their amateur efforts at their craft of choice, I think it’s only reasonable to have a shred of fear that it will be a valiant but god awful effort. I’ve been lucky to experience only a select few instances of lying through my teeth in encouragement of a friend’s art (and they’re mostly humorous memories now). But from the first few pages of Josh’s novel, I knew that nothing but pure praise would be in order. It was easily one of the most imaginative and engrossing novels I had ever read. And to think it was all born from the creative capacities of someone I knew personally was even more mind blowing to me.
God, Sex, Drugs, & Suicide is about just those things listed in the title. We meet a series of characters throughout who come to their untimely end and encounter God in the pre-afterlife. God is different in appearance to each member of this colorful cast of characters and far from the image any church-going, Bible-reading American would conjure of the Lord. He constantly has a “God’s Finest” cigarette, which light themselves, hanging out of his mouth and encourages his disciples to partake in a variety of activities (including sex and drugs) that by most definitions would be considered sinful. He believes that most humans are pan-sexual, that people should conduct themselves in life as in a feast, that human beings are wildly ridiculous in the vast majority of their decision making. He has a standing weekly squash game with Nikita Khrushchev and owns a dog named Santa who wrecked havoc on the Garden of Eden (a gross miswriting of history which lead humans to mistakenly conjure up the idea of an evil Satan).
But there are some familiar aspects of God’s characterization in this world. He is still an omnipotent God and has a son named Jesus. And while he grants humans free will, God encourages the lucky few who get to meet him to act in accordance with what is best for the themselves and the world despite their fears and unease. His advice is not morally motivated but rather is tuned to the particular needs of each of the six humans who encounter him and are offered another chance at living their lives right. He is an eccentric existential God and I’d like to think that McCarthy’s characterization of the Almighty is a bit closer to reality than what we’re taught by most religions.
The stories of this motley crew of characters, including a lesbian nun, a WWII veteran, a single father, and an unapologetic prostitute, are largely distinct from one another, but the content and purpose of their meetings with God are the threads that carry this novel along. We meet each individual just before their death (many of which occur in dark, dingy bars but my favorite being a death by drowning in a bar bathroom urinal) through their meeting with the Almighty and their return to earth for another chance at living.
God, Sex, Drugs, & Suicide provides a razor-sharp commentary on modern day life packaged in a bizarre, humorous, absolutely original story. It was easy to become enveloped in this off-beat, alternate world, experiencing the post-life pre-afterlife non-purgatory through the eyes of these six disparate individuals. Witty and entertaining, intelligent and engrossing, God, Sex, Drugs, & Suicide made me feel quite fortunate to know such an ingenious writer as Mr. McCarthy and I’m anxious to see what he comes up with next.