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Late Summer Reading

Excerpt from
The Preservationist

Noe scans for clouds, sees none. It has become such a habit that his neck now aches without relent.

He squats against the wall of the eating room with the wife. He appears outwardly calm but inside he is counting problems. There are many. he wonders if the wife is fooled by his false serenity. Probably not. One thing Noe will say for his wife: she is not fooled by much.

Noe’s mental list of problems looks like this. 1. Need wood. 2. Need pitch. The giants were supposed to bring it, but no sign of them has been seen so far. 3. Need supplies for the family. 4. Need supplies for the animals. 5. Need animals, and no sign of them either, nor the girls sent to gather them. 6. Japheth acting the fool. 7. Cham acting tight-lipped and grumpy. 8. Sem lacking imagination. 9. Ilya as flat-belled as Bera. Or himself for that matter. Noe has trouble seeing the point in God’s saving them from destruction, if they all turn out as barren as mules. He wonders if this thought is blasphemous, decides it probably is and utters a quick prayer of apology.
David Maine, The Preservationist (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004) 53.

Other book reviews
by John Tintera

The Preservationist John Tintera

Modern scholarship has laid waste to pretty much every miracle story found in the bible: creation in six days, the parting of the Red Sea, the falling of the walls of Jericho, and the stopping of the sun. Even the resurrection has a scientific explanation these days. One story that hasn’t fared so badly is Noah and the Ark. There are actually several independent accounts of the epic flood extant from the ancient world. Scholars agree, however, that the flood could not have been as all-encompassing as that found in Genesis. In The Preservationist David Maine shows us that the debate about whether and how the flood happened is pretty much beside the point.

Each chapter of The Preservationist leads off with a verse from Genesis which is then amplified to give it flesh and blood. In a novel that offers many small pleasures, the most significant is the bringing to life of Noah. According to Genesis, Noah was 600 years old when the rains began. In Maine’s hands, Noah is a wizened bag of bones and just about the crankiest old coot you could ever imagine. This is especially evident in his relationship with his wife, a woman about 550 years his junior. Noah goes for days without paying attention to her at all, and, by her own telling, thinks of her as no more than a piece of chattel.

Maine also gives us a finely imaginative, yet somewhat tongue-in-cheek rendering of Noah’s relationship with God. Throughout his neighborhood, Noah is known as a man who has visions. When God finally decides that he needs to destroy the world with a flood, he comes to Noah as a voice in his head. What’s funny is that when God speaks to Noah, he sounds pretty much like the voice of God you might hear in a TV sitcom. In addition, God gives no more instruction about how to accomplish such a large task than what we see in the bible. It’s left to Noah (actually, he pretty much delegates all of the work to his children) to figure out how to craft the gigantic ship and gather all the animals from the ends of the earth. Of course, Noah lives in the desert and gathering wood and pitch to make a boat the size of three football fields is no easy feat. Nor is figuring out how to transport wild lions, tigers, and elephants from far-away lands. All of this is accomplished, however, and much more, through a combination of human ingenuity and help from Above.

One of the striking things about the account of Noah in Genesis (at least to modern ears) is that none of the women are named. Maine, who clearly has a feminist sensibility, plays upon the misogyny of the Bible by simply referring to Noah’s wife as ‘the wife.’ At the same time, Noah’s daughters-in-law are purposefully given names by Maine and major roles in the narrative. His playfulness with the names and roles helps Maine raise awareness of women’s place in ancient society (i.e. they did most of the work and held very little of the power) without hitting us over the head with it.

The one criticism I have with The Preservationist is that it does not go beyond the traditionalist explanation for why God felt it necessary to bring on the flood. In one chapter we meet a group of people that, with construction on the ark underway, have come out from the local village to mock Noah. As some in the crowd are
heckling him, others are consorting with a prostitute right out in
the open. The scene has a funny, carnivalesque feel to it, yet this

is all the evidence given as to why humanity needed to be destroyed. On the other hand, Maine does a good job of showing us the challenges and hardships that Noah faced as a prophet and disciple of the Lord. The Preservationist has much value as a contemporary parable of the spiritual life, though readers will have to look elsewhere for an up-to-date portrait of God.

Copyright ©2004 John Tintera

Summer Reading Home   A Canticle for Leibowitz   A Confederacy of Dunces   The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene   The Spiral Staircase

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