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"It's hard to spell out dreams—to rein them in, to make the story under our lives rise to the surface. Terese Svoboda brings a light hand, a pinch of humor and a lot of irreverence to this weighty task with her new novel, Tin God. . . . [T]he wisdom of Tin God lies in the idea that, in dreams, some people get within spitting distance of God, while others sleep the sleep of forgetting."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
— Susan Salter Reynolds
"Svoboda's fiction is marked by the same dark felicity of language found in her poetry. . . . A sense of urgency pervades all of her work, giving the words a pulse, making her language race with insistence."—Timothy Schaffert, Poets and Writers
— Timothy Schaffert
“Tin God is a unique and thrilling ride through God’s country and the human imagination.”—Mariya Gusev, Literary Review
— Mariya Gusev
All right reserved.
Broadcasting. You thought electricity, a TV special via satellite,
a Mile-High-Send-It-To-The-Sky? No. Grain. Remember, I put the
Virgin Mary on the front of a box of cornstarch, no Indian maiden.
The feather in her hair's a nice touch for those who recall the Virgin's
exit, doves and whatnot in the jet stream. It's got to be grain
for that girl. Corn, sorghum-you name it, I broadcast it, I seed it,
it's all about grain.
It's not all about grain. It's grass too. Grass I care a lot about.
Grass is what you have when you don't plant, but I plant that too.
You see, this field hasn't been grain, grain, grain, from Kingdom
Come, a season of soybeans, a rotation of rye. I'm talking pre-Interstate, pretrain,
prewagon, pregrain, when grass grew by itself, just as grass. Up to here. And wind is
what broadcastit then-meaning Me, of course-a wind that never stops, a wind that
pets and fingers and searches the grass for whatever's
lost-grain or what? Faith?
I lay the grass bit on pretty thick.
I'm an impostor, of course. That's what the people who live
in grass that high think and believing that keeps them looking
around for a real god. Wind doesn't convince them otherwise,
though goodness knows, I lay on plenty of that here. No
light-handed broadcaster am I. But these people don't even
sniff at wind, they have to have the incarnate, the usual
meat, to make them mellow out and believe. Not that they don't already
have it in one Tall Pigeon Eye, but they don't give him
the credit, he has a hard time of it. It's all about timing. Except
for Me-I'm out of time, broadcasting whenever, a pretend
impostor with no megaphones or ziggurats, though never
subtle. I say: You're going to end up dirt, then grass, what
do you think? Timing is everything is what I think.
This is God, G-O-D. Add a W more and I'm broadcasting
on the radio.
But who hears Me? The people living in this tall grass
hear the wind and the grass together, but if I speak any louder
they'll ask for a receipt, some sign and all, and that's annoying
in the end because, well, you know, I'm everywhere. It's
all about expectation anyhow, about whether you're hearing
what you've heard before. What these people in the grass
don't expect to hear is the metal against metal on a man.
It's chunky chest-shaped-slabs-slapping-together-where-the-joints-fit-wrong time-that's
what they hear but what they see is a big metal bug, face down in a fold of all that tall
grass, stirring against a metal hat wedged sharp edge down
into the earth, the head of a man pinned in its cup, the head
jerking up against it.
Now these grass people are just out for a few days' hunt,
the ladies and the dogs being left behind, but they are hunger-driven
as always, and also out-of-the-village rowdy, with bets on who will find anything
fit to eat first.
It is Tall Pigeon Eye who finds this vision of metal bug by
tripping over the same pea vine as the metal-hatted man and
falling hard into the same press of grass that he still holds
down with his bulk. Tall Pigeon Eye is not my most graceful
incarnate nor my smartest. Perhaps this is a result of an unfortunate
drop he encountered at the time of his, as it were,
birth, that is to say, when he was cast out of a cloud over a nice
stretch of grass just after lunch, that meal no one makes much
of midday here if there's really only sleep to be had, and that's
the way it is with people who live in grass, not much lunch
and a drowsiness that comes over their brains because they're
being touched by sun straight up, a drowsiness like a cloud.
It was a warm and hungry lunchtime when Tall Pigeon
Eye arrived. He didn't force himself through the forehead of
some big shot or emerge squalling as the illegitimate foal of a
local lady of virtue, but chose instead to set himself down out
of an actual cloud into the grass, the sun full blast everywhere
but there, so not too many people in the grass noticed his moment
of arrival until he fully jettisoned down with a bump.
It is irritating that these people celebrate the least nuance
of rabbit warren occupancy but not the splendid, gold-lined
arrival of a decent-sized cloud with an incarnate on board.
He should have made the day stormy-that they keep an eye
on. Anyway, one or two of them looked sharp, having heard
a thump and a cry of pain, the noise almost enough to account
for a stranger showing up. When they ran toward the
sound, they thought meat, lunch, which is after all, the incarnate's
purvey by definition, and held disappointment foremost
when he was located, and wondered. He had to come
from somewhere. No one thought, Check the cloud. His odd,
fixed look-the result of the drop on his face-lent him a
touch of stranger credibility, and he wasn't nude, he had done
his research. They had a name for him right away, a name that
he heard as soon as he hauled himself up, swaying and grabbing
for a handhold in the sharp-edged grass, his wide flat
bum coming up against the face of somebody who had until
very recently been asleep but on seeing the bum, a truly
flat bum I'm afraid, another result of the fall, and with Tall
Pigeon Eye turning his fixed eye on him, the eye yet another
souvenir, turning it to have a look at whomever it was he
had landed so close to, and his neck stuck out, turning, eyes
popping, and well, that man laughed and called him Tall Pigeon
Eye and Tall Pigeon Eye said, Yes? and the man and the
others clapped him on the back and offered him what lunch
there was, the way they do.
Of course I gave Tall Pigeon Eye cover, knowledge of family.
Black sheep are handy for this, the Aunt Jane and Uncle
Rupert who choose exit and are not accounted for in the
mumbling of begats until someone shows up to claim them
as kin and a free meal. Later on there's all this business with
Social Security numbers and credit ratings-it's quite messy
to launch an incarnate today. Still, you'd be surprised what
you can do now if you show up with cash.
I usually lose touch with an incarnate once he puts himself
down. Father, father, why hast thou forsaken me? A lot
of community outreach has to happen to get things going for
him, a lot of courting without conception, and, despite the
jolliness of the early years, a dreary solemnity has to replace
the Las Vegas wit to keep the legend moving along. Who remembers
an incarnate's jokes? God's, maybe. By the time Tall
Pigeon Eye stumbles again, this time into the man with the
metal hat, he has standing but not belly laughs, he has people
who owe him.
The man stirs.
You never know how people will take to seeing someone
who's not just like themselves. In my experience, the ones
who get along, they watch what comes along, they're cautious.
You only have to have a few of your kids turn black and die
from a handful of mushrooms nobody studied to get the idea.
This group puts one berry into their mouths and then a sprig
of something else and then another sprig-to counteract every
possible poison. That's how spice got to be. But no one's
written that up yet, how spice and life come linked so close.
Hey! says Tall Pigeon Eye, pulling himself back onto his
feet. The others, bored, beating the grass for game in the casual
manner of late afternoon, take an interest, circle back.
The choice for these grass people is: wait to have a look at
this metal-wrapped creature, or kill it. After all, they are out
on a hunt, they've been singing, Kill, kill, kill, since noon.
They don't rush up like they did to Tall Pigeon Eye, and give
him the high five, that's for sure. For one thing, Tall Pigeon
Eye showed up in an outfit that matched theirs. They come
to a halt in the thick of the grass and start to whisper about
this metal man, about what kind of trouble he must bring,
and what kind of man.
The man rolls over on hhis back, the metal hat falls off.
They, with their no-beard look, whisper a little louder
about the wisp on his chin hanging on like a badly attached
rag, about his fingers that spasm, about his size relative to
theirs which is big, about his skin which is mottled-their
color and lighter-with dirt. And about killing.
He opens his eyes.
They snap their mouths shut, they whip back farther into
the grass, you'd better believe it, whip off like mink from a
I have not been generous with blue eyes in this place full
of grass. You'd think with all the sky on top spread out so
blue and cloudless most of the time that I would be inspired to
blueness in the genes now so lovingly replacing what used
to be called God's will. But no. Black is what they get. I forget
The man's eyes are blue.
God, they gasp. Whatever. They always name Me something
short, like a pet that needs to be called a lot. Spot!
Now, Tall Pigeon Eye is my man-in-command, the incarnate
moment, the flower that has fallen, the bang on a can.
He's well aware of who has been foreseen and dreamt of and
talked to death of-and it's not Tall Pigeon Eye. Timing is
everything when it comes to a god. And sometimes different
No eyes of blue for Tall Pigeon Eye. He wanted to be discovered
for himself, he wanted his godship earned. Every incarnate
has his schtick. He is in fact, color-blind, the way he
feels every incarnate is supposed to be. But by the end of his
life, he's all-out blind and falls into a well and befouls it. It
will be after he's finally made some reputation for himself as
a fixer-upper of broken limbs and barren women with just
a glance, more or less. Sometimes he used stinky green sap
or he spooked people, and sometimes with barren women,
well, he took matters into his own, as it were, hands. This is
not good, but what can you do? He ends up in that well on
account of one of those tuppings, sperm on a stick is what it
is, he gets a push into that well he can't see but still, despite
his drowning and decaying, he keeps them coming back for
more, for sips and vials and gallon jugs of his essence. While
the native populace is being killed off by the next soon-native
populace, whole shipfuls of that well water he's steeped in is
sent back from whence that populace came, along with testimonials
on the fecund power of the well, but said three ships
sink, boom, boom, boom.
Even an incarnate needs luck.
This man, the one they're calling god, is not good luck for
Tall Pigeon Eye. He glances up at the sky, and I see his scowl.
What does Tall Pigeon Eye want? Angels with banners covered
God, the others say all together.
Wait a minute, whispers Tall Pigeon Eye. That's not Him.
God/Spot/God/Whatever. They drag Tall Pigeon Eye farther
back into the grass. Not so loud, they whisper. At the sound
of the dragging, the man with the blue eyes hunkers up on
his haunches and though he can't see too well now because
he's been out for some time, he sure hears all that whispering,
and this makes him think he is gone for good, the grass
and its whispers closing around him like a wave he can't see
the top of.
He closes his eyes.
He's bleeding, whispers Tall Pigeon Eye, checking his own
hand for wounds. Does god bleed?
Blood does wriggle out from under the metal hat the
man's resettled on his head. A curl of it runs straight down
over the side of his head.
You'd have thought a chorus of Man, Man, Man would have
come in to support Tall Pigeon Eye right then and there
but no, the blue eyes open up a second time and suck that
chorus right out of them all but Tall Pigeon Eye, especially
since the blue eyes are not focused so well and look so wild,
as wild as a god's playing over that grass, the grass leaning
down on him so close that it could be the grass that whispers
about the blood.
The man is wild. He has been on a horse three days
straight, peeing off the side and holding his bowels, so deathly
afraid of the grass is he, like all the rest of them, the ones who
ride on ahead, who don't see him fall, the ones who go on into
the grass so fearful they don't even turn around. Like them,
he's been afraid of this ocean of grass, this rough-weather
tsunami of grass that messes and fronts the wind in a boil,
my wind, this grass that grows so high those who have gone
ahead talk about putting a boat on it, conjoining the wind
the way they've done with water where serpents haven't yet
caught them, where something as non-serpent as a plant, well,
a slithering pea-plant, lassoes him at last in amongst that fearful
I do get carried away to the rhetorical side, wanting the
words to sweeten themselves, to chip thought down to stone
tablet brevity and then try for the purest. Well, sometimes it
comes out clipped, and sometimes it comes out clipped and
long, which is how speech happens for god.
Anyway, this fear of the grass reaches into him and squeezes
his face about off so all you really see is the eyes.
Those blue eyes. The whispering ones in the grass figure
they have at last caught themselves a god, they have captured
one but now what? To their credit, they resist what most men
do when faced with the chance of being less than what they
have caught-they watch, they do not kill.
Tall Pigeon Eye shrugs.
Dios mio, the man says to the grass and lunges back into it.
Excerpted from Tin God
by Terese Svoboda
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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