"It's commonly said that if people understood the difficulties and heartbreaks of having children, they might not do it," writes Walter Kirn. "This seems to be true of God as well. Parenthood was not what he expected."
This droll assessment is the type of unorthodox commentary that has made Kirn one of America's best-loved novelists ("Up in the Air," "Thumbsucker") and critics. And behind this particular great writer is an equally indomitable mother. Millie Kirn's spunk and love of literature helped shape her son. She was a voracious reader who "held conventional wisdom in disdain, delighted in seeing hypocrisy exposed, arrogance leveled, and complacency shaken." After she died unexpectedly of a rare infection in her brain, Kirn was sorting through her effects when he came across a King James Study Bible. In his grief, hoping to commune with his mother's spirit, he opened the volume and discovered a glorious profusion of notes in his mother's familiar handwriting. "Much ado about curtains," she wrote in a typically tart assessment of a passage from Exodus laying out the rules for priestly dress and temple adornment.
Inspired by his mother's brash, iconoclastic annotations and following them across the biblical landscape like crumbs, Walter Kirn set about rereading the Old Testament for the first time since he was a child. He sees its familiar heroes—Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Joseph—in a fresh, often comic light. "The Bible is a drama concerned with drama itself, its origins, its nature, and its ends," he writes. "Maybe Creation's purpose is just that: to stir up a fuss and banish God's perfect boredom. My mother once told me that her life was flat before I came along—not bad, just flat. And how was it afterwards? 'Very busy,' she said."