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St. Martin's Press, 2005
256 pp., $23.95
Abram Van Engen
The Bible, first and foremost, is a story. That may seem obvious, but often, in the midst of theologizing and "application," we can forget that what we're dealing with is a narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. And perhaps no one reminds us so well of the Bible's fundamental nature as the storytellers who take it as a point of departure. For centuries now, the enigmas of biblical narratives have generated further narratives designed to explore and explain the "cryptic conciseness" of a Bible "fraught with background."1 In Paradise Lost, for example, John Milton spins twelve books of blank verse from only two chapters of Genesis. More recently, Walter Wangerin has rewritten key episodes from the Bible as novels in The Book of God and Jesus, and the poet Scott Cairns has reinvestigated biblical characters in his book Recovered Body. In that light, David Maine's two novels, The Preservationist and Fallen, which, respectively, retell the stories of Noah's Ark and Genesis 24, slide into place in a long tradition of biblical racounteurs.
What this tradition demonstrates is that a text's literary choices inevitably carry with them theological implications. Theology does not fall from the sky in strings of symbolic logic; it rises from the gritty core of crafted plots, the turns of unpredictable characters, the ambiguities of word choice and chosen images. The literary and the theological are like the two strands of DNA: we can examine each separately, but in the end they are intimately linked, each one shaping the other.
Within this double helix, David Maine's Fallen takes up the case of Cain, Abel, Adam, and Eve (in that order). Maine creates realistic characters and sets them loose, the better to examine human responsibility and the causes of evil, and he does all this while attempting to remain faithful to Scripture.
But what does it mean to remain faithful to Scripture? In cases where narratives retell the Bible, that is a difficult question to answer. Does it ...