Growing up in the orthodox Jewish community of Monsey, New York, Shalom Auslander had a tremendous fear of God instilled in him by his fundamentalist parents. Foreskin's Lament details his relationship with God, family, and religion, and how his anger forced him to reject all three. I spoke to Auslander—on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, no less—about his hilarious and moving memoir, newly issued in paperback.
MERCURY: Was it a difficult to write such a brutally honest memoir?
AUSLANDER: Yeah, and not just because fiction wins all the awards. Deciding to write a memoir is like deciding you're going into porn in the literary world. The thing that pushed me over the edge was finding out my wife was pregnant. It brought back all this stuff; it made me have to look at myself and say, "You're going to be a father and you walk around in terror of God all day long, and maybe we should look at that before the baby gets here." I decided I needed to write what that terror was like.
Do you still believe in God?
I'm still terrified on the billion-to-one chance that everything they told me was true. Intellectually no, I don't—I'm not an atheist, because I think we ought to have a bit more respect for our ignorance—but if what they told me is right, that we are just pawns of an omniscient douchebag, we might as well just fuck it and have fun now because we're all going to die and spend eternity with that asshole. And that just can't possibly make any sense. Based on the response I've gotten, a lot of Catholics were taught this, and a lot of Muslims and a lot of Calvinists; regardless of what nouns you use, the story's the same and it's a bullshit story that shouldn't be taught to kids.
Were you surprised the book turned out as funny as it is?
Honestly, that's the only way I've ever found of dealing with these things. Life is just too serious to be taken seriously sometimes. The only way I can deal with it is to look at the problems and laugh at them. That's Vonnegut's way through it, and Beckett's and Kafka's and Bill Hicks' way through it; it seems to be the way I get through it, too.