Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Preservationist

Originally uploaded by paynehollow
I just finished reading a compelling novel by David Maine called, The Preservationist. It's a first novel for Maine and he has done a magnificent job in retelling the Noah story, filling in a lot of the dirty details that the job of building and filling an ark would entail. HOW does one get all those animals there? How does one keep the lions from eating the gazelles?

What's life like aboard a big floating zoo for months on end? How does it feel to see the world destroyed?

Little answers, big answers, sometimes no answers, as in real life.

The thing that mostly makes the book so well done, I think, is how Maine brings the characters to life. Maine uses an old 16th century Bible for quotes and for spellings, so the names aren't always the traditional spellings we're used to. We meet crusty old Noe, The Wife (all the name she's given), the Boys (Sem, Cham and Japheth) and their wonderful wives (Bera, Ilya and Mirn).

First of all, I should note that this is not traditional Children's Sunday School literature. Primarily because of the sometimes vivid descriptions of mating happening between the adults (vivid, not erotic or pornographic). And, at first, I found it a bit disgusting as the author described in fairly honest terms a patriarchal world, where women/girls are bought, sold, traded and handed off as chattel to be bedded down. It describes the world much as it likely was, in that regards. An unpleasant thought.

But the redemption (at least in this area) is how marvelously strong and smart these women are. They are the scientists, the reasonable ones, the deep, seasoned thinkers. They just have to be careful about letting on that they're smarter than their husbands!

Near the end, Noe's wife is talking with him. Noe - who used to commune with God and hear God's voice, setting him apart as special - no longer hears God's voice after they have completed their journey.

"Oh husband. The test doesn't end when the flood does. It's only the start." (Noe's wife speaking)

"Without Yahweh whispering in your ear you're no more nor less than anybody else. No special assurance that you're blessed or that God gives a rat's ass what happens to you."

Noe stares at the dirt floor. Such thoughts had crossed his mind, in slightly more refined terms...

Humorous, irreverent, delightful discussions such as this are what makes this book so fantastic and bright. As noted, Maine draws the women in incredibly powerful terms in quite a few lines (the dialog tends to be brief snatches of conversation).

The chapters are each written from different character's points of view, which is slightly unbalancing, but offers a nicely rounded view of the characters and situation. In one of Ilya's chapters, she ponders about the various types of rocks (she looks at things with a scientist's eye)...

Another mystery. I sighed - another explanation, I was certain, waiting only to be chanced upon. Like the meanings of the constellations, or the secret of how birds fly. Did Yahweh pepper the world with conundrums such has these for His own amusement, I wondered, or did He do it as a challenge to us?

Each character is unique and appealing in their own way, yet with all too human flaws. Serious Sem, the firstborn, who strives to be like Noah. Strong and opinionated Cham, who is a hard worker and a loving husband, but has a mean streak. Silly Japheth, the youngest who still acts the little boy to his wife, Mirn's little girl (wise beyond what anyone recognizes). Glorious human characters in which I was quickly and richly invested.

As long as you don't mind your biblical stories told with humor and irreverence, I highly recommend The Preservationist (even, or perhaps especially, if you're not normally the type to read Bible stories...)

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