Friday, September 03, 2010

Adam and Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund

Adam & Eve, by Sena Jeter Naslund, is a book I obtained from the Early Reviewer Giveaway at LibraryThing, and I'm always grateful for that opportunity!

Lucy Bergman was married to Thom, a brilliant astrophysicist who quietly made an important discovery concerning extraterrestrial life. Thom kept all his greatest secrets on a flash drive, which he attached to a cord and affectionately hung on Lucy's neck. She considered it an act of faith and trust that he wanted her to carry his most cherished possession.

This story is set in the near future, when fundamentalists from three major religions have grown dangerously defensive about any scientific discoveries that could possibly raise questions about their most basic beliefs. From this fear, a group called Perpetuity is formed, which ironically requires men from these disparate groups to actually cooperate to prevent science from getting in the way of a good rapture.

Unfortunately, one day as Lucy is racing to meet Thom at the hotel where he is to make one of his presentations (she has his memory stick, remember), she witnesses his death: a grand piano, which is being hoisted into a window several stories up suddenly crashes to the ground and lands on top of him. This turns out to be a rather, um, orchestrated death. Certainly an unusual one.

Meanwhile, a man named Pierre Saad (of French and Egyptian ancestry), has made an archaeological discovery concerning the writing of Genesis (the genesis of Genesis). He is eager to find someone to smuggle this ancient document out of Egypt into France, where he won't be so closely watched by members of Perpetuity. A few years after Thom's death, he catches up to Lucy, who just happens to be a pilot. Pierre is smooth and charming, while Lucy is still depressed and at loose ends, so she agrees to pilot a plane and smuggle this codex out of Egypt in a very well sealed French horn case.

At this point, this particular reader is having some problems with this plot. Lucy knows that she's just taking Pierre's word that there's no dope or weapons involved, even though she barely knows him. And, when she leaves, there's no mention of a flight plan or that she has permission to just fly from Egypt to France.

Lucy crashes. I don't know why; it's not explained. Before she hits the ground, though, she throws out the precious French horn case, so it won't burn up. Obviously, Lucy the atheist (I forgot to mention that she's an atheist) must be a real believer in whatever is in this case. I do understand why she'd be sympathetic to Saad's quest, since her late husband was also a scientist who guarded his work and was careful about how he presented it, but somehow it seems superhuman to be thinking about Saad's cargo while her life is in peril.

After Lucy lands, she manages to drag herself to a beachy shore, despite some severe pain from the burns on her back. At this point, she doesn't know where she is and does not understand why there's a beach here or the appearance of redwood trees surrounding this place. Redwood trees in the Middle East! I was beginning to be reminded of Life of Pi, for indeed, Lucy has landed in a mysterious place and is rescued by a man named Adam who wants to call her Eve. He has been praying to God for a companion, and her she is! In fact,
everything they need seems to just materialize. The weather is also perfect, which is a good thing because they're both naked.

This is the segment of the book I found most intriguing, simply because of Adam. How did he get there? Well, he does remember being thrown off a truck. Not just that, but being beaten and raped and then thrown off the truck. Adam tries to describe how his life was saved by a strange boy who fed him and gave him water as he lay baking in the dirt. He was a soldier in a Middle Eastern war, but we don't learn what else he saw or had done to him during his tour of duty. Adam is usually here now, living in the moment, but he occasionally fills us in a little bit: his father was a tyrant, he had several younger brothers, and he was no angel. He dropped out of college and he has artistic ability. And major issues. However, living in the moment, Adam is amazingly resourceful, clever, and functional. He's even happy, when thoughts of the past don't cloud his vision.

Then, one day, there's another crash, and a soldier parachutes from the sky and becomes tangled up and caught in one of the redwoods. Adam finds a way to get him out, and so a third character, Riley, enters the scene. Suddenly, Lucy feels naked and fashions herself an orange outfit from Riley's parachute, complete with bubble hem and puffy sleeves. Riley's a nice young man, and Lucy observes how Adam becomes a little more normal around him. Unfortunately, Riley is murdered by a wild child, a feral boy who inhabits this land, and after that, Eden is no longer the same. This boy has sacrificed a lamb, and suddenly, the animals around them are no longer a peaceable kingdom.

It is at this point that Adam confesses that he has the French horn case that Lucy's been searching for. He hid it because he didn't want her to leave, but now they must go, and they do. It is around this point in time that Adam and Lucy become lovers. Adam has expressed the hope that she would be his wife, and stated that he'd always feel this way, but it takes awhile for Lucy to see him as anything other than a younger man afflicted with delusions.

It is an arduous journey on foot, quite a contrast to their easy life in Eden (for lack of another name). When they come across an airstrip in the middle of nowhere, Lucy immediately decides to go looking for help. Coincidentally, a plane lands and who should appear but Gabriel Plum, an old friend she knew because he was a colleague of Thom's. Gabriel is no angel, though, and after running to Gabriel and greeting him, she realizes that this is no coincidence--Gabriel wants that memory stick. And the other two men in the plane? They are wearing sterotypical costumes that label them as Jewish and Muslim. Lucy knows tht Gabriel is a devout Christian. Right away, she knows she's being hounded by Perpetuity. Adam, who's been listening, suddenly yells, "Run!" Which she does, making a bee line for the plane. Adam quickly overpowers these three older men and joins her.

So, Lucy and Adam fly out of the greater Bagdad area to France with the precious Codex, but first, before they go to visit Pierre Saad, they go shopping with Gabriel's money (he left his wallet in the plane), so they can show up looking quite fashionable.

Pierre Saad's place in Paris, which he is sharing with his daughter Arielle, is another kind of Eden, and underneath this wonderful house of his is a series of caves with artwork dating back thousands of years. Pretty cool. After he shows his guests this secret of his, Pierre sits down to do some serious translating. In a couple days, he calls his three companions together to read the precious codex, and when he finished, I thought--is that all there is? Is that all there is to the codex?

After that, there is another chase scene in which Gabriel and his two nameless friends show up at Pierre's house and chase them all through the caves. They separate and meet up on the other side, except for Adam, who has been shot in the ankle and is bleeding very badly. Don't worry, his friends do find him, but the details are sketchy.

It all ends very happily for the four friends. Adam marries Arielle (he changed his mind about Lucy), and Lucy is happy with Pierre. Arielle and Lucy are both pregnant, possibly by the same guy, but that's okay; Lucy and Pierre care not who the father is.

It all ends a bit muddled for me. I am left wondering many things: could Thom really have been the only astrophysicist in the world to have made his discovery, even though years have passed since his death? And we never do find out exactly what is and what isn't on that memory stick. Was this Eden place all a dream? How much of it was real? Was the translation of the codex ever published, and if so, what was its impact? In the end, how is Adam--really? Are they ever terrorized by Perpetuity again? They seemed strangely impotent; if they were a real threat, they'd have obtained anything they'd wanted from a single, unarmed woman long ago.

Lucy does intend to seek out the right people to examine Thom's memory stick, but that is sometime in the future. For now, though, this is a happy foursome.

Obviously, I didn't much like this novel. Naslund's writing style is very nice, but I'm afraid that this story was just--silly. It's quite a departure from her earlier historical novels, such as Ahab's Wife and Four Spirits, and it seems that she was out of her element this time.


Doug said...

An axe ground long enough might become a pen, but is more likely to be a great toothpick.

I have to say the review was well-written, though. "requires men from these disparate groups to actually cooperate to prevent science from getting in the way of a good rapture-" a particularly nice phrase.

The one revelatory thing from the plot, in my opinion, was the use of falling piano as a murder device. Was the author trying to say that all religions are, in the end, cartoons?

Thanks for reading that so I could enjoy the synopsis.

Nessa said...

Good review but I think I'll pass. It sounds like the author wanted to jam as many controversial subjects as possible in one book.

actonbell said...

Thanks, Doug. The biggest motivation for churning out a review is getting to then read what the other recipients wrote about the same book--I never peek beforehand--and someone did mention Wile E. Coyote. Darn! Wish I'd thought of that. Why didn't I? Actually, there's a scene in which Adam uncharacteristically laughs when he hears how Thom died.

Nessa, YES, pass this by. I can't imagine what she was thinking.

TLP said...

Great review as always.

The book does sound silly.