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Tue February 15, 2011
Adam & Eve: A Novel
Naslund has tended to be over the years a kind of historical novelist. Although the novel is not science fiction, exactly, in order to have a chance, it needs to be read in a flexible, imaginative way.
By Don Noble
Audio ?2011 Alabama Public Radio
Naslund has tended to be over the years a kind of historical novelist. "Sherlock in Love" was set in Victorian London, "Ahab's Wife" in nineteenth-century America, "Four Spirits" in the Birmingham of Naslund's youth and "Abundance," the story of Marie Antoinette, in revolutionary France.
This novel, "Adam & Eve," is set in the near future, the year 2020.
Although the novel is not science fiction, exactly, in order to have a chance, it needs to be read in a flexible, imaginative way. There are bits of the plot that will not stand a literal interpretation, and the danger of literal interpretation is in fact a major concern of the novel.
On page one, Lucy Bergmann and her astrophysicist husband, Thom, are in Amsterdam. While walking to a scientific conference, Thom is killed, murdered we assume, by a falling grand piano.
Thom the scientist was about to announce that he had discovered incontrovertible proof of the existence of life in other places in the universe. This proof is stored in a "thumb drive" or "memory stick" that Lucy wears on a cord around her neck. Thom and Lucy had discussed the ways in which this news would be greeted by religious fundamentalists, extremists, fanatics. When Copernicus asserted that the Ptolemaic, earth-centered theory of the universe was wrong, the religious establishment became very grumpy. Further suggestions by Galileo provoked the Pope to silence him, but no matter. Facts are facts.
Three years after Thom's death Lucy is in Egypt, at a conference honoring Thom, where she is contacted by Pierre Saad, a French/Arab anthropologist who has in his possession some ancient texts, similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls, but these texts, called The Codex, are an ancient alternative explanation of Genesis. Thus Lucy has come to be in possession of two extraordinary pieces of evidence concerning the alpha and omega, the origin and future, of faith.
Most persons of faith might accommodate all this, declaring it to be part of the divine creation plan, but religious extremists tend not to adapt easily to new information.
Readers will recognize a similarity to Dan Brown's work in these themes.
Saad explains that a reconsideration of the Genesis story will infuriate fanatics in all three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam and, in fact, there is already a trio of assassins, part of a group known as Perpetuity, which means to find and destroy the thumb drive and the Codex and kill their keepers.
Lucy, flying out of Egypt to meet up with Saad in Lascaux, France, crashes in Iraq, where the war is still on, in 2020, into an idyllic oasis, a veritable Eden, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where there is a deranged injured American soldier named Adam. They heal together and, of course, must escape from Perpetuity when it comes after them.
This middle, Eden section, is way too long. Naslund's novels tend to sag in the middle, but I had high hopes for a chase, evade, escape sequence, through airports and on high-speed trains across Europe. But there was none. It may be that Naslund feared appearing too similar to the plots of Dan Brown or Steve Berry.
But, in my opinion, Naslund would have been better off if she had the truly vicious, savage bad guys on stage more. Although they are the monsters one would expect, they had a real vitality.
As William Blake said concerning that other retelling of the Genesis story, "Paradise Lost," Milton was "of the Devil's party without knowing it." I take that to mean that Milton's poem rises in energy and luminescence when Satan is on stage.
Naslund is a brainy writer, no question. This novel, however, falls between stools, with too much discussion of metaphysical problems and too little in the way of lights, camera and action.
This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio. Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show "Bookmark" and the editor of "A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama."