Thursday, February 24, 2011


By Stephen Goldin
$4.99 at

Stephen Goldin describes himself as a professional fantasy and science fiction writer and an atheist.

The first of those descriptors is readily apparent in Polly!, but a surprise turn makes the last relevant as well.

I know I risk turning off some readers if I let on that the book’s protagonist, Herodotus, has the greatest sex of his life with a beautiful woman who may actually be God. But reviews are supposed to warn readers away from books they won’t like, so perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Most readers, though, would lose out if they let a little thing like that deter them from reading this unusual little novel.

As the book opens, Herodotus has just awakened in terror to find his bookstore on fire and smoke billowing upward into his second-floor apartment. His wife has left him, and the IRS claims he owes $8,000, which he doesn’t have. Now this.

Short on good options, he sets out in his decrepit Corolla to pay an unannounced call on his brother, who lives on a ranch in Nevada. On the way, the car breaks down in the grueling desert heat right in front of a mansion. Polly is its owner.

It must be said that Goldin is an atheist with a great sense of humor who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is well grounded in the Bible and theology – and the Marx Brothers. The verbal sparring that takes place between Herodotus and Polly, whoever she may actually be, is brilliant from beginning to end.

In brief, Polly is a lion-owning, acrobatic, Japanese-speaking, gourmet-cooking nuclear physicist who hosts a houseful of friendly people whose lives she has touched with her kindness and generosity. Not that she always seems so kind to Herodotus, who is understandably confused by such oddities as an elevator in a two-story mansion that ascends for 13 floors.

The book is an allegory of self-discovery – or perhaps, universe discovery – by Herodotus, who can’t possibly match wits with the wise-cracking, teasing Polly. Without giving away more, let’s just say the conversation, which is laced with hundreds of puns and one-liners, eventually works its way around to the Supreme Being.

Whether she is or isn’t literally divine, Polly’s organizing principle is that entropy – the constant tendency of the universe to run down – is unstoppable, even by her, but nevertheless must be resisted.

Overwhelmed with Polly’s seeming omniscience, Herodotus presses for answers to the big questions about life and thereafter. Eventually he asks, “So fighting entropy is the point?” “No,” Polly replies, “Fighting entropy is what I choose to do.”

She wages the battle on an incalculable number of fronts, including helping a group of protesters save a polluted river, teaching illiterate adults to read and befriending a child with leukemia.

Polly! is the kind of book aspiring writers should read just to study the craft. Goldin’s writing is fastidious. And he seemingly has the gift (Would that be a theological term?) of calling on everything he knows from the silly to the profound to create a story that starts out being entertaining and winds up being interesting, even thought-provoking.

Click here to link to Polly.

Bill Furlow

1 comment:

  1. In the award-winning tradition of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and Lionel Bart's Oliver!, the title of my book Polly! has an exclamation point at the end--which you omitted. I am deeply offended! :)

    Seriously, I'm flattered by your words. I've never been called "fastidious" before. (At least, not to my face.)