"Mr. G: A Novel about the creation" by Alan Lightman. Pantheon Books. 215 pages. $25.
Philosophers, scientists, theologians and so many others have contemplated the universe, trying to organize understandings, seeking faith in a higher order. Alan Lightman adds levity and literal and figurative gravity to the dialogue as he puts forth a remarkably open-ended answer to it all with the diary of the omniscient Mr. G.
Mr. G is the creator of all, his initial deliberately selected to allow for a variety of naming rubrics. Living in the timeless immaterial void with his long-haired Aunt Penelope and her henpecked husband, Deva, Mr. G is bored. This spurs him to do something exciting, to create a new universe from matter available in the void. What begins as a whim takes new form, outgrowing its creator while still in his dominion and becoming the preoccupation for the three immortals.
It starts through constant expansion, swirling masses, then atoms and molecules regenerate and adhere to G's new laws governing force, gravity, matter and energy. He names this universe Aalom-104729, and in it he sees goodness. He allows it to simmer and grow on its own accord and allows creatures to animate it as they develop. Then the fun begins.
His onetime playground of ideas spawns a nemesis in the form of a wily Belhor and his beastial companion Bahomet. Belhor becomes G's foil, his mental sparring partner, his inquisitor who imposes a sense of self doubt in Mr. G and a great deal of vexation for the new creatures of the Universe. To counter this, Penelope and Deva offer counsel, stressing patience and organic development and temperance when it comes to the creatures and their newly created free will.
Alternate worlds are born and die -- spaces with foundations built of greed, of elitism, of gender inequality, of complete interiority. Each burns bright and then destructs but the world that most closely mirrors our own perseveres, albeit with a hazy knowledge of its own ultimate demise. Those living on it develop thought, begin to discover Mr. G's master principles and develop religions to explain what science cannot. Immortality lies beyond their grasp but glimpses of universal truths flicker before them as precious gifts parceled out by Mr. G in the last moments of each creature's life.
Penelope and Deva are touched by the world, at first frustrated by it, encumbered by a new sense of time and related exhaustion and material needs never before considered. Ultimately, they are entranced by it, even to go so far as to adopt new constructs such as birthdays and clock-based time measurements. Belhor grows in his own prowess, becomes a worthy adversary who cannot be destroyed, a necessary "dim shadow" to Mr. G's regenerative force.
Part biblical parable, part scientific discourse, this fable speaks in universalities and is remarkably ecumenical in allowing space for a multitude of beliefs and conceptions. Lightman, the first academic awarded joint positions in science and the humanities at MIT, seems uniquely qualified to write such a work (an absolute assertion with which the expansively thinking Lightman would no doubt quibble).
Like the love child of Beckett and Einstein, he produces a story that plays with time much like his lauded "Einstein's Dreams" but also adds a dimensionality and a continuous narrative. We can read Mr. G to be a particular deity, a scientific force or a flawed construction for he is all of these and so much more.
He is a reflection of our endless dreams and ideologies and in his narrative he is the answer to many prayers.
Adera Causey is curator of education at the Hunter Museum of American Art.