If you can imagine a story that marries the comic sensibility of Woody Allen to the good-natured theology of the Oh, God! movie trilogy, you’ll have a pretty fair idea of what comedy writer Simon Rich is up to in his second novel, a fable of love, miracles and second chances.
The deity who presides over Heaven, Inc. is more interested in opening an Asian fusion restaurant and reuniting Lynryd Skynryd than he is in managing his maddening creation. In fact, he’s so bored he decides to dispose of his handiwork with the cool resolve of a corporate CEO shutting down an underperforming division. But in an uncharacteristic burst of compassion, he yields to the request of Craig, an Angel in the humble Miracles Department, and agrees to stay the planet’s execution if the earnest angel can answer just one prayer in 30 days.
On its face, granting 20-year-old Sam Katz’s plea to “Please let me and Laura be together,” seems simple. It turns out to be anything but, as Craig and his colleague Eliza seriously underestimate the obstacles that stand in the way of uniting the lonely young man with Laura Potts, an equally forlorn college classmate. Though the outcome of the angels’ determined efforts to bring these two Manhattan singles together is never seriously in doubt, Rich constructs an amusingly formidable series of challenges for them to overcome. Call it miracle or coincidence, in this winsome story he makes us ponder some of the fragile mysteries of human attraction. And though Rich confesses his days in Hebrew school didn’t turn him into an observant Jew, there are clever allusions here to the Book of Job and Sodom and Gomorrah, along with nods to Paradise Lost and the writings of the “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins.
At age 28 and with two novels, two collections of humor pieces and a writing slot on “Saturday Night Live” to his credit, Rich looks poised to work the field of gentle satire for some time to come.