In her bestselling novel Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund wrote a thrilling, woman-centered alternative version of Moby-Dick. In Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, she took readers inside the life of the near-mythical French queen.
In Adam & Eve, Naslund takes on one of the biggest myths, the creation story, and gives it all sorts of spins, mashing up Genesis, astrophysics, prehistoric cave paintings and even a visit to the Garden of Eden.
The novel's main character does not bear the name of the Bible's first woman; she's called Lucy, like the 3.2-million-year-old fossil of an ancestor of humanity that scientists found in eastern Africa in 1974.
Naslund's Lucy will come to be called Eve, though, and the tension those names represent between religious belief and scientific discovery is an important element in the novel's plot.
Adam & Eve begins with the death of Lucy's beloved husband, Thom Bergmann, killed on an Amsterdam street by a falling grand piano. Hours before his death, Thom, a brilliant astrophysicist, entrusts Lucy with a flash drive that contains his latest research — irrefutable evidence of the presence of life elsewhere in the universe.
Numb with grief, Lucy tells no one about his discovery. Three years later, still depressed and wearing the "memory stick" around her neck like a lover's locket, she goes to Cairo to speak at a scholarly conference honoring Thom. There she runs into a couple of his former associates: British astrophysicist Gabriel Plum, who unexpectedly proposes marriage, and Franco-Egyptian anthropologist Pierre Saad, who has a far more unusual proposal.
Pierre wants Lucy's help to smuggle a priceless object to Europe: an ancient codex, written at about the same time as the Book of Genesis and discovered near the site that yielded the controversial Dead Sea Scrolls. Like Thom's research, it has the potential to forever alter our perceptions of creation — and that makes it very dangerous. Pierre fears it's being sought by members of a group called Perpetuity, made up of fundamentalist Jews, Christians and Muslims. Their mission is to destroy the codex because it threatens the basis of their beliefs; Lucy's will be to preserve it.
The challenge snaps her out of her funk, and soon she is flying a small plane over the ravaged landscape near Baghdad. (The novel is set a decade in the future, and war in the Mideast staggers on.) The plane crashes, and she finds herself in a fantasy landscape populated by improbable flora and fauna and one beautiful naked man.
Adam — he really is named that — is an American soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (as a result of both his military experiences and his childhood). He nurses the injured Lucy, whom he calls Eve, as tenderly as a mother might until their paradise is stained by an act of violence and they resume the quest to elude Perpetuity and deliver the codex to Pierre in France.
Adam & Eve is tough to categorize. The chase portions of its plot and the religion-fueled conspiracy theme recall Dan Brown's thrillers, the Eden section is a dreamily surreal romantic fantasy, and it's sprinkled throughout with digressions into paleontology, mysticism and the philosophy of creativity, as well as lingeringly detailed descriptions of landscapes, meals and art.
Readers who require linear plot and loose ends neatly tied up should seek those elsewhere, but those who enjoy the exploration of ideas about humanity's origins — and those who enjoy fantasies about being fed grapes and honey by a hot naked guy — will find just that in Adam & Eve.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs. tampabay.com/arts.