Book Review: “Adam and Eve” by Sena Jeter Naslund

September 23, 2010

Lucy Bergmann has a problem. Her astrophysicist husband has just been killed, crushed to death by a grand piano while walking around in Amsterdam. His Wile E Coyote-inspired exit leaves Lucy in possession of of his just-clinched proof of extraterrestrial life (as evidenced by pulsing red dots in a computer program, naturally) on a flash drive (no backups, but of course). Lucy adopts the weird obsession of wearing this ‘memory stick’ like a talismanic necklace. Ah. And this is just the first chapter.

Then, in whirlwind jags, we’re suddenly in Egypt, and Lucy is in the thick of some sort of intrigue that involves a purported ancient manuscript which brings into dispute the authorship of the Book of Genesis. The codex is sealed inside of a French horn case, and Lucy, who can of course pilot aircraft, is roped in to smuggle the thing to France; then there’s something about the caves at Lascaux and–wait, what? Lucy is now crashing in flames into a Mesopotamian paradise where she gallivants around naked for several months with an insane man named, sigh, Adam.

The book is a mishmash farce of a thriller, replete with cringe-inducing, quasi-religious meditations and incredible coincidences. Naslund, whose Ahab’s Wife is not only tolerable but is often held up as a rather good book, here blithely stumbles into a theological minefield and staggers around in it with all the grace of a tabloid reporter. Meanwhile, the plot is prone to seizures. Naslund’s distracted paragraphs carom off of the halfhearted plot arcs and scatter away, never to resolve themselves. Where did the lurking ‘brown man’ in the turban, with ‘eyes…as dark as dates, but menacing’ from chapter five go? Don’t know, don’t care.

The only partial respite from the onslaught is the slightly languorous middle part of the book, where Lucy is discovering a slightly magical Eden with Adam. Problem is, Naslund’s stylized neo-Adam isn’t cute crazy, he’s just crazy crazy. Creepy, loose-cannon crazy. Lucy, who—get this—is nominally an art therapist in a mental institution, sort of seems to forget about this after a while. By the end of the story I think we’re supposed to think he’s just a bit eccentric.

Naslund tries to cram cliched theme after hackneyed symbolism into the space of one novel, as if she’s worried she’ll never get another chance to write again. As such, everything is treated with the barest of attention before we’re barreling on again to something else trite. Men’s dominance over and violence toward women. The dangers of rigid literalism in religion. Imperialism. Fidelity and widowhood. Cave art as transcendent expression. The evils of endless war. It’s exhausting. It feels like a rehashing of slightly-drunk conversations amongst pseudo-intellectuals. Lots of slurring and excitement, but no one ever gets to the point.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention the hastily pasted-in bit about the international religious conspiracy. And all of this happens in a near future that Naslund utterly fails to take creative advantage of: Flash drives are slightly smaller and the wars in the Middle East are still burning brightly; that’s about it.

It’s not even laughably terrible. In fact, it’s not entertaining at all, save for a brief moment of hope here and there. It has all the hallmarks of a really bad book without being enjoyably bad. Problem is, Naslund can actually turn a nice phrase. And does. Which makes the ham-fisted, inattentive plotting just that much more jarring.

LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program

My many thanks again to LibraryThing for their Early Reviewer program, as well as William Morrow. Adam & Eve will be released on September 28, 2010.

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program

1 stars
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