The story of Noah and the flood is so entrenched in our culture that most people at least know the basics: God visits a pious old man and instructs him to build a huge boat that will withstand the storm to end all storms. While you're at it, He says, fill it up with every type of animal you can get your hands on. And then be prepared to be adrift at sea with only your family for company for the foreseeable future. When the floods recede, it will be your duty to repopulate the planet.
The power of this tale is why David Maine's outstanding first novel, The Preservationist, a fantastically original take on the classic Old Testament story, is a treat both for believers and those who consider themselves devout only when it comes to discovering good books. Much as Anita Diamant's best-selling The Red Tent did for the biblical story of Jacob and his wives, The Preservationist breathes new life into ancient characters while illuminating the tremendous faith they had in their families and their god.
The 600-year-old Noah brings together his wife, sons and daughters-in-law to build the ark and collect the animals. Onlookers gather to jeer as the mammoth hull takes shape, but Noah never waivers in his conviction that this is God's plan. His family is another story they are by turns exasperated and awed by the old man's steadfast determination. Each member of the group takes a turn narrating events, giving readers a vast range of perspectives on this unusual quest, and on the nature of faith.
According to the Old Testament, God brought about the storm to wash the earth clean of rampant sin that had become unbearable. Maine paints a vivid picture of a world run amok, of a culture of violence, greed and lust. Perhaps The Preservationist is so compelling because of its hard-to-ignore parallels to modern times of violence and an increasingly sensational popular culture. It's impossible to miss the similarities between the ancient place Maine describes and the present-day experience, and this book conjures very relevant questions about how traditional notions of God's plan fit in modern society.
Then again, you can ignore all that mess and enjoy the book simply for its rich retelling of an epic battle of man versus nature. This is not a book aimed solely or even mostly at Christians. It's just a great story, told remarkably well.