.  Alan Lightman. Pantheon. 214 pages. $24.95.    Creation, a spur-of-the moment idea

Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation. Alan Lightman. Pantheon. 214 pages. $24.95.


An author has to be bold to write a book from the perspective of God. Even from theoretical physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, who first achieved literary success with 1993’s novel Einstein’s Dreams, it’s still a plucky gamble. In his new novel, Lightman again explores the creative scientific mind, here via the grandest of narratives — the creation of our universe from spur of the moment start to bittersweet end. It’s a literary experiment as heavy and airy as the Void in which the narrator Mr. g and his disapproving Aunt Penelope and steady Uncle Deva sleep and stroll.

The storyline of Mr g: A Novel About the Creationis paradoxically simple. After waking from a nap, and ostensibly out of boredom, the meditative Mr. g decides to create the universe and changes everything with this spontaneous choice. He isn’t at first purposeful about his creations, an interesting judgment on Lightman’s part, but with guidance from his uncle and aunt, Mr. g chooses to work on just one universe, Aalam-104729.

Thus begins its creation, told from Lightman’s relatively easy position of imagining the story’s beginning while living its middle, utilizing an all-knowing narrator and hazy setting to capture and contain mystiques. “I had chosen to replace nothingness with something,” Mr. g says. “My imagination reeled. From now on, there would be a future, a present, and a past.” Mr. g actively invents first time, then space, and later quantum physics and convenient organizing principles like “[s]ymmetry of position and movement.”

The new universe also influences the Void and those in it, just as Mr. g’s act of creation makes possible others over which he has no control, particularly the appearance of a mysterious dark stranger, Belhor. Music is also an ubiquitous byproduct, one of the few embellishments Lightman allows in this restrained and slim novel. Mr. g admires it: “Nowhere is the joy of existence so apparent as in music.”

Throughout, Lightman suavely weaves theology grounded in science and moral philosophy and alights on evolution of matter, consciousness, spirituality and existential crises. He takes pains to cover all the bases, even neatly explaining the barrier betwixt the universe and Void and human desire to understand the puzzle. “The origin of the First Event would always remain unknowable, and the creature would be left wondering, and that wondering would leave a mystery,” Mr. g says. “So my universe would have logic and rationality and organizational principles, but it would also have spirituality and mystery.”

And though ostensibly it answers our biggest existential question, the novel includes a cosmic wink at the infinite loop of creativity and mystery: “How was it possible that something I’d created from my own being was now larger than my being?” Mr. g asks about the universe. “Is it possible that the created can create its creator?” Even writing as God, Lightman doesn’t have all the answers.

Reviewed by Christine Thomas for Miami Herald Books Section.