In 1946 North Carolina, during a raging winter rainstorm, young Evelyn Roe discovers a man buried in the rich red clay of her farm. Impossibly, he’s alive. She frantically digs him from the muck and thinks he’s a burned, lost soldier. But as she warms him, feeds him, clothes him, his gnarled skin “heals” illogically fast, and he acts like he’s never eaten food, taken a bath or even heard language before. This can’t simply be a man with amnesia.

Riley contemplates the mysteries of those we love in a standout debut.

In fact, he’s not even a man.

Rhonda Riley’s marvelous debut, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, spans 50 years and chronicles the relationship between Evelyn and this guileless being, who goes through more than one strange metamorphosis. Eventually, they marry. They raise five daughters. And in all those years, despite their passion, their happy, ordinary life and their profound bond, Evelyn’s husband never ceases to be a mystery to her.

Richly drawn and tenderly delivered, what’s perhaps loveliest about Riley’s story is that Adam doesn’t know any more about his origins than Evelyn does. And he doesn’t care—he just is. Captivating in his joy and openness, he’s worldly and innocent, not to mention otherworldly, all at the same time. Meanwhile, Riley creates in Evelyn a wonderfully real narrator, a subtle masterpiece. With a loving but unobtrusive voice, Evelyn inspires instant, unnoticed loyalty in the reader, allowing for a complete suspension of disbelief that is a great feat given the book’s premise.

Enhanced by gorgeous depictions of the land Evelyn and Adam love, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope evokes the wonder of being alive, of loving, of finding one’s home. By the end, it feels like you have truly listened in on a life—that these things have occurred somehow, in some realm. Combining terrific writing with mass appeal, this should be one of 2013’s most deserving hits.

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