The story “Job’s Jobs” by Aimee Bender is about a man, referred to only as “the writer,” who is forced by God to stop writing with the threat of death. So, the man takes up painting and becomes referred to as “the artist.” However, right when the artist begins to really get into his paintings, God returns and tells him he has to stop. So, the man signs up for a drama class and becomes “the actor,” but right when he really gets a feel for the emotion involved in acting, God returns and tells him to stop. Next the man becomes “the chef,” but after he cooks an amazing meal God forces him to stop. After that the man tries piano, but God forces him to stop. The same occurs with dance and even non-artistic jobs such as accounting, law, and the stock market. “The man” (as he is called now), now forbidden to speak or follow any career that he enjoys, simply sits in the park and watches people, but when the sadness in his eyes inspires a young writer, God tells him to close his eyes. The man’s wife, who adored him for his talent, is brokenhearted that he is reduced to just sitting with his eyes closed, and the two do…sexual things one night as she laments their predicament. Finally, God just puts the man in a box, where he sits and thinks forever. Because even if God prevented the man from doing anything else, he can’t put a halt to his thoughts.
One thing I liked about this story was the characterization, specifically of God. Bender does not portray this version of God with much respect and reverence that one usually sees. Bender even neglects to capitalize God’s pronouns (his and him as opposed to the usual His and Him). God is also said to have “an east coast accent, but his face was ethereal and frail.” God seems to be some sort of gangster, wielding weapons and nonchalantly forcing a man to give up the things he loves the most (and right when the man really begins to get into his hobbies, no less) out of pure sadism, but the mention of his face being ethereal and frail hints at something deeper. Perhaps God in this story is a symbol for those who oppress—whether it be a government oppressing its people or one person bullying another—and shows that every snowball of cruelty is built on a crystal of weakness.
Another thing I liked about this story was the matter-of-factness. Most of the story is told through what I think of as “exposition language,” meaning that instead of truly embracing the moment, the narrator tells the story like it’s something they heard instead of experiences theirself, keeping a certain level of distance from the events of the story. Take the first sentence, for example.
God put a gun to the writer’s head.
That’s obviously a huge deal—having one’s very life threatened by The Man himself is something of serious concern. But the narrator speaks of it like it’s nothing. And how does the narrator describe the man’s overall reaction to the incident?
He was sad.
And when he’s forbidden from art?
He felt sad again.
He was depressed for a while which his wife didn’t like much.
Instead of going into a description of the heart-wrenching despair the man felt, the author uses—please forgive me for saying this—“low-quality L2 words,” instead describing what it felt like to cook or write or act or paint.
The actor sat in the car, gripping the steering wheel, already missing the applause, the sight of the woman in the front row with tears in her eyes that were from the same pool of tears he’d visited to do the scene, the entire town fetching water from the same well.
The exact details of the man’s feelings are left to us, The Readers, to imagine. But that’s arguably more powerful. Leaving things up to The Reader’s imagination will allow our minds to run wild, causing the story to haunt us even more than if the story had just straight-up told us everything there was to know. By just telling us that the man was sad, or that God entered with a dagger or a rifle or any other horrific weapon he has in his arsenal, it’s more effective than describing the true horror of the moment. Then, it would just be overkill.
Such a technique will be very useful in my own writing. I often feel like ‘tis my duty as a writer to immerse my reader by trying to paint a vivid picture in their mind. Sometimes, that’s good, but, as this story shows, sometimes it’s better and more powerful to let The Reader immerse theirself. To state it simply, sometimes telling is better than showing, as long as it’s done in a way that adds to the overall emotional effect. This is a valuable lesson that I will remember whenever I write my own works of fiction.
- In the Bible, Job was a man whom God forced to suffer through many trials to prove his loyalty to Him. How does this connect to “Job’s Jobs”?
- Why do you think none of the characters were named (except God)?
- What do you think God is a symbol of?