Monday, June 2, 2008
This book was quite possibly the best biblical fiction book I have read in the past few years. Fallen is the story of Cain and Abel, and alternately, Adam and Eve. The book begins with the ending and cleverly winds it's way back to the beginning, with the body of the story told in shifting time-lines. Maine brilliantly manages to keep the story line comprehensive and lucid. I was very struck by the spare, yet visceral language throughout the book, and the motivations of the characters were portrayed extremely well. I raced ahead to finish the book, all the while trying to slow myself down so there was more to savor. Though the story is familiar to most, the nuances and subtleties that were infused throughout the book made this a one of a kind story, one where even though the outcome is predicted, the road getting there is anything but.
Most know the infamous story of the two brothers, Cain and Abel, but what is portrayed here is so much more. Maine has managed to take small snippets of those famous verses in the Bible and make them delectably consumable, and downright wonderful. Cain is portrayed as a difficult and tractable young man, bordering on heretical. He is forever feeling slighted and wronged, and his attitude only makes things more difficult for himself. It is hard to find sympathy for Cain; he is virtually unlovable, and remains so for the entirety of the novel. It becomes easy to see him follow his path from anger to murder. Even in his exile, he curses and berates God, making him seem all the more recalcitrant and miserable. His reflections upon himself and his inherent differences from his family are captivating, and make him a full and interesting character.
Abel, on the other hand is wonderfully compliant, kind and friendly. Though he tends towards platitudes and bossiness, the goodness in him shines through. Abel, his mother's favored child, strives for peace in the family, and is usually the one to try and persuade Cain to abandon his fits of pique. He is loving and forgiving, and he is truly humble to the Lord. He is constantly trying to find his brother's heart and make him see reason. It is clear to see that Abel is light to Cain's darkness. The insight gained regarding Abel's unselfish love for his brother make Cain's act all the more incomprehensible. Though Abel is more of a simple man, his devotion to his family and his God are very moving.
As the story moves forward, the focus is on Adam and Eve and their flight to safety after being banished from the Garden of Eden. It is a sorrowful trek that visits many misfortunes and hardships upon the two. Everything that could possibly go wrong for them does so from the beginning. Adam's staunch belief in the Lord pulls him through the struggles, and makes him accepting of any travail that comes their way. Eve is not always so emotionally compliant. There are scenes in which she doubts the intentions and safeguarding of God, and in these moments, Maine has cleverly elaborated on what can only be speculated upon. The awareness of the characters was also a great touch. These fictional characters see themselves as we would see ourselves today, their hopes, fears and dreams are fully realized within the story, and the effect is that all the characters are living, breathing and thinking entities who can be understood and appreciated.
At the close of the book, the story has finally come around to the beginning. God has banished the couple from paradise for their sin, and they are left wondering how and where they will survive. The fear they feel is perceptible, and their reactions to it recognizable. This story has been heard countless times before, yet what is different this time around is the cognizance of the sinners. It is so much clearer to imagine, in this novel, who and what Adam and Eve were like, and what they were thinking. By making them so human, the author has made them so much more plausible and believable. One can imagine feeling the same way today if one were faced with these overwhelming situations. The dialogue was also very solid. Both the children and the parents contemporized and tended towards philosophical understanding.
Another lovely touch was the depictions of the world around the characters. It was easy to see the hardship once the barren and wasted landscape was described. The deserts felt hot, the river felt cool. The effect was masterful, as the panorama wasn't excessively described. It was hinted at, and sparingly related, yet so much more revealing than if countless pages of scenery had been described. It was also interesting to see deftness of the period detail.
This was a wonderful book. It had so many multi-layered parts that came together seamlessly and satisfyingly. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Biblical fiction, or anyone who would just like to read a good story. This book is one of three books of biblical fiction by the same author. I will most definitely be reading the others.