Review: The God Cookie, by Geoffrey Wood

The God Cookie, by Geoffrey Wood (WaterBrook Press, 2009)

“Perhaps none of this would have happened had they not been arguing about golf balls.”

I don’t know about you, but I figure any book that opens with a line like that has to be worth reading. Especially when it’s written by Geoffrey Wood, who had me laughing frequently in his previous novel, Leaper.

The ones doing the arguing are Parrish, Mason and Duncan, three guys in their early 20’s who work together in Parrish’s coffee shop. They do a lot of this friendly hassling of one another, and on the day in question the topic somehow gets around to whether God talks to people. (Parrish thinks He’s real, the other two aren’t sure, and none of them pay Him much mind.)

Circumstances unfold in such a way that when Parrish opens a fortune cookie after the argument, he believes the words inside are from God. A little bemused and regretting he asked God to speak, he isn’t quite sure what God wants him to do.

Parrish ends up at a bus stop, where he befriends Rose and Audra and encounters a host of other characters. He thinks he’s supposed to help someone, and as he bumbles along trying to find who that someone is and what to do for them, he draws Audra along with him.

Geoffrey Wood is a thinker, as well as having a delightfully quirky sense of humour. His slightly detached, omniscient style works well in this story (although I did have some trouble in the opening pages, trying to figure out who was who among the three guys). It also lets him pull readers in as observers, and behind the surface storyline we can think about the deeper questions he raises about how we relate to one another—and to God.

Although the narrative feels a bit distant, it offers glimpses into individuals’ daily struggles that let readers empathize. I hope it teaches us, as the events teach John Parrish, to listen. Really listen to the people around us.

WaterBrook is a Christian publisher, but The God Cookie is a novel that should cross over well to the mainstream market. It’s definitely not “formula Christian material” (whatever that is). None of the characters go to church or do all “the right things”.

Some Christian readers may look only at the surface and close the book as moderately irreverent. That would be a mistake. Read to the end, and while you won’t find fancy theology, you’ll find spiritual truth (suitable to Christianity, not just vague truth). And it’s not irreverent, it’s honest about where these three men are in their spiritual lives at the start of the story.

We all know people like that. They don’t mean to be offensive to God, they just don’t have Him on their radars. Everyone starts that way until He pings us with His.

I’d like to know where the novel is set. It’s somewhere in the United States I presume, northern enough to need hats and gloves in February but where snow that late in the season is not a given.

Canadian readers, be warned: the novel refers to people wearing toboggans. I puzzled a bit about why one would wear a toboggan that was meant for coasting on snow, and then I wondered if an intrepid Canadian had pulled the wool over the author’s and editors’ eyes. (Bad pun intended.)

We call them toques, (or tuques, depending on who you believe). For the uninitiated, that’s pronounced to rhyme with “Luke” and it’s a knitted hat. According to Wikipedia, “toboggan” is a short form of “toboggan hat”. But on the toboggan page it sends you to the tuque page to read about the hat. It also says a toque is a chef’s hat and a tuque is a knitted hat, but any knitting pattern I’ve seen has spelled it toque. Google search obligingly provides hats for both spellings.

A traditional book review shouldn’t rabbit-trail like this, but somehow I think Parrish and his buddies would approve. Nonetheless, back on track. Here are some snippets from the novel, to show the fresh delivery Geoffrey Wood gives his prose and his ideas:

“Duncan…leaned on the espresso bar, nervously patting the top of his head with his hand, as if gentle persistence might nudge his thoughts out of hiding.” (p. 162)

“My strangling a bus sign cannot, unfortunately, be blamed on my head wound.” (p. 188, and my personal favourite line in the novel.)

“What God did next for Audra was interesting, mainly because God had been doing it all along. [without it yet being seen]” (p.266)

I laughed less with The God Cookie than with Leaper, but I thought more and got the message better. I hate to use a word like “message” because neither novel is “about” an agenda. Neither preaches. They’re about the characters. Those characters, at least the protagonists, grow and change, but it comes organically from their natures and their experiences.

The God Cookie is a brilliant novel, and I hope we’ll see more from Geoffrey Wood very soon.

Check out chapter one of The God Cookie and see if you don’t want to read more. You can read an interview with Geoffrey Wood at Novel Journey.

Here’s a video introduction to The God Cookie from the author himself.

[Review copy courtesy of my local public library.]

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