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After Goliath, indeed--a Goliath named Joseph Heller, whose God Knows is likely to overshadow Cassill's similar, in some ways superior, comic novel about the Bible's King David. Like Heller, Cassill dresses up the ancient tales in modern vernacular, in Mel Brooks-ish anachronisms. (Jehosaphat ""is trying to expand from his specialty of military history. He hopes to get some of his present work included' in the Bible."" And David instructs his high priest: ""Take it back to Jerusalem, Zadok. . . I appreciate the gesture, but it wouldn't work. I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep."") Also like Heller, Cassill indulges in a good deal of sexual wryness: ""You can see how low the people have got when the pecker counts more than the sword."" But, while God Knows was a non-stop monologue, its imaginative one-liners dwindling through repetition, this David-chronicle is told mostly by David's general Joab--slayer of Absalom, all-around henchman for David's thankless dirty-work, a narrator who offers both philosophical substance and real drama. (Cod, Knows was lacking in both these departments.) And, if Heller undeniably made Bathsheba into a rich, vivid character, Cassill does equally well with Solomon--seen here not as a dullard plagiarist but as a hyper-aesthetic fop. (""Without the happy dust from Nineveh, how could one endure the boredom of Sabbath afternoons. Then all my diversions are smothered by the sheer dead weight of existence. My personality becomes a straitjacket within which the self wriggles, trying to get to an itchy nose. The cosmos crouches motionless on leaden foundations. All my living creatures sense the nausea of this meaningless inertia. My pet lemurs, Whoopee and Clitoris, are sad."") A short, succinct bagatelle--in contrast to the longwinded marathon of Cod Knows: it would be a pity if the Heller novel's bestsellerdom deprived this artful entertainment of critical/popular attention.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin