Oh God, the Sun Goes: David Connor’s Mind-Expanding Novel 

Image Source: Cover art for the the book “Oh God, the Sun Goes” by David Connor

“I was definitely messing with readers a bit. I like stories that disorient you and force you to find your own road map home.”
– novelist David Connor

The contemporary experimental American novel takes readers to strange places, though that’s what experimental novels have done ever since the genre was invented in Europe in the pages of Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe. David Connor’s new work of fiction, Oh God, the Sun Goes (Melville House; $17.99), begins: “It’s as simple as it goes, the sun is missing.” For the next 200 or so pages—with the sun a fugitive from its appointed place in the sky—the novel reads like an acid trip into surreal territory with familiar place names such as Phoenix, Arizona.

Novelist Jonathan Lethem, the author of The Fortress of Solitude, says that Oh God, the Sun Goes, is “a debut announcing a writer who’ll seemingly follow his intuitions anywhere, with blazing results.”

During a phone interview, Connor told me, “I was definitely messing with readers a bit.” He added, “I like stories that disorient you and force you to find your own road map home.”

While I threw out most of the questions during the interview, Connor asked me, “What do you think about Cornel West, the philosopher and public intellectual, running for president?” We agreed that West won’t win, but that he could raise critical issues. “He might push the Democratic platform to the Left,” Connor said. “And he’s an amazing speaker.”

Connor wrote most of his novel in California, where he studied at Pomona College and the California Institute of the Arts. Some of the characters in Oh God appeared first in a short story with the same title as the novel, which might be called science fiction of the kind that pushes readers to the edge of consciousness and beyond.

Does the narrative have a happy ending?  That depends on how much or how little sun you crave.

Melville House has made a name for itself by publishing experimental fiction, such as Jinwoo Chong’s kinetic first novel, Flux. Now, the house has done it again with Oh God.

Connor’s novel is often funny with quirky characters like the man who goes to sleep with an egg on his head and fries it after he wakes in the morning. Given the novel’s mind games, it’s somehow satisfying to read on the book’s back cover that the author, David Connor, works as a research assistant at Montreal’s Lady Davis Institute where topics such as aging, memory and psychedelics are explored. “As the resident writer I help scientists find words for their ideas,” Connor told me.

Predictably, inserts his protagonist in a real world laboratory and performs experiments on his mind and body. “He’s fucked up in all kinds of ways,” Connor said. “If I were a doctor analyzing him I might say he has broken through semantic associations and that his life doesn’t make the kind of sense it once did.”

The protagonist, who also serves as the narrator, calls himself “Mr. Blue.” Soon after the sun disappears, he goes on the road alone and without a companion—no Sancho Panza to Don Quixote and no Dean Moriarity to Sal Paradise. His journey takes him across the kind of desert that Hunter S. Thompson explores in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. None of the chapters seem to take place in Vegas, but the setting isn’t far away from Vegas. Mr. Blue stops in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona “a city that asks you to forget it,” Connor writes. That’s for sure. Mr. Blue also ventures into an environment where he moves “into the tactile geometry of emotional space.” It’s spooky.

At Ocean Beach in San Francisco where I live, the sun has disappeared, except for rare moments over the last four months. One might suspect it has vanished for good, or that it has taken an extended vacation. With global climate change breathing down our collective neck anything is possible, including the prolonged absence of the sun.

Mr. Blue travels to a place called “Sun City,” which promotes itself as “The Original Fun City!” He soon learns that there are over one hundred Sun cities in California and the West. It’s a world that mass produces and reproduces itself ad infinitum.

Oh God challenges readers to make sense of a narrator who says he has “forgotten most things.” Indeed, he says he no longer understands words, a condition which might be explored at Lady Davis Institute in Montreal.

In the chapter titled “Phoenix, Arizona,” one of the characters tells Mr. Blue that white settlers built the city on the ruins of the indigenous Hohoham civilization. The author clearly cares about the past and wants readers to remember the Hohoham. He also wants readers to remember Del Webb, a mega contractor and a crazy settler colonialist, who tells Blue, “Who needs the sun when you have Sun City?” Surprisingly, Del Webb is a real person. Google him and see.

Webb wants to build a city on the sun itself, a project that Elon Musk might like to undertake. (The quintessential imperialist, Cecil Rhodes, said he wanted to “annex the planets.”) Near the end of the novel, Blue wonders, “might a new order emerge?” He sounds hopeful. In a diner in Tempe, Arizona, he sits down in a booth, drinks coffee and prepares himself to eat a normal American breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes with ketchup toast, honey and jam.

He seems to be back in a known and familiar universe. Characters who appear at the start reappear at the end and provide a sense of continuity. But the novel pivots toward the strange again. Readers might be wiser at the end of the road than at the start, or maybe they’ll still be without a firm footing.

If the sun has gone, does that mean God is dead? The novel doesn’t answer that question explicitly. Indeed, it poses more questions than one can answer in a work of fiction. “Oh God is meant to be expansive, not reductive,” Connor says. “It’s about the ineffable.”

If you enjoy literary fiction that bends genres and undermines conventional plots, Connor’s novel is probably for you.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.