“Job’s Jobs” by Aimee Bender tells the story of a man and his troubles with both jobs and God. He starts out as a writer, and he’s content, but that ends when God shows up with a gun and tells him to never write another word again. Since he was not about to challenge God, he obliged and put away his writing supplies. He did nothing for a few days, but then he took up art. He discovered that he actually liked painting, and he wasn’t half bad at it either. It made him happy, and God showed up later holding a dagger, telling him that he couldn’t make any more images of any sort. So he put away his paint, paintbrushes, etc. and went on to acting. He wasn’t the most talented actor, but as with painting, he got attached to acting and it too made him happy, eventually. One day, he got in the car to find God in the backseat with a bayonet. God, of course, was against the acting, but this time, the main character tried to bargain with him, asking to keep acting or become a mime… God said no. The main character went along with it. He decided to try cooking, and discovered that he was naturally talented at that too. This time, God didn’t show up just as soon as the main character began to be happy, but instead let him enjoy himself for a while before walking in with a noose. He gave up on cooking, then tried piano, dance and architecture, but God shut him down those times too. He decided to stop being creative, and do “boring” things like accounting, law, chemistry, the stock market… They still interested him, so he had to give those up too. By now, God wouldn’t let him talk, so he sat on a bench and a young woman looked at him, walked around him, wrote in her notebook, and thanked him. God told him to close his eyes, and he couldn’t move or speak… The story ends with God putting the man in a box, where he thinks and doesn’t do much else.
The first technique I tracked was God’s characterization throughout the story. He is described as having
…an East Coast accent, tough like a mobster, but his lined face was frail and ethereal.
This is one of the only physical descriptions of God in the entire story, and the rest of the information that the reader gets about him is through dialogue or actions such as:
Cut the painting too, said God. No words, no images. Or—He made a slicing motion near his stringy throat,
“God lifted the dagger to the lightbulb of the garage and it glinted, unpolished silver, speckled with brown. Do not question God, said God,”
The actor started to cry. I love acting, he said. I’m just getting it right, he said. My wife thinks I’m coming out of my shell. God shook his head. Mime? The man pleaded. God poked the actor’s side with the sweet triangular tip of the bayonet.
God is usually portrayed as a good and gentle character in stories, or, at the very least, some sort of impartial force of justice, so this kind of violent, unrefined characterization of God is definitely different. The unique character of God is one of, if not the most interesting thing about this story. If God weren’t so threatening and persistent, then there would be no plot, and therefore no story.
The second technique I tracked was the main character’s reactions to God. His responses tended to fluctuate throughout the story, and at first he just agreed:
He was sad because he loved words as much as he loved people, because words were the way he said what he wanted about people, but this was God and God was the real deal, and he didn’t want to spend time dwelling on it. So he packed up his type-writer and paper and tucked them in the hall closet.
He asked God “Why?” when he was told to stop painting, cried and tried to bargain with God after he’s told to stop acting, and objects when God tells him to stop cooking. After that, he actively tried out jobs that he thought wouldn’t make him happy, but when he found out that they did, he quit them by himself. The main character’s responses to God showing up repeatedly are what build the tension and move the plot. The fact that his responses do vary, and that he also consistently keeps trying artistic jobs, thinking that he will escape God’s criticism this time, make the story fun to read. For example, the story would not be as interesting if the main character never tried to go against God at all; or even just quit trying to do anything after God told him to stop the first time.
One thing I would like to take from this story to use in my own writing would be the use of pattern in plot and the different sentence and paragraph structures to avoid making patterns repeat themselves too much. I really like patterns in stories (maybe a little too much), but it’s actually fairly difficult to keep rigid patterns interesting, especially if they’re as drawn out as they are in this story, so I’d like to try having a plot mostly made up of a specific pattern but not have it be too repetitive or boring.
- What message do you think this story is meant to convey?
- What does God symbolize (besides God himself)?
- Why is this happening to the main character? Why not anyone else?