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Book Review: Maine’s The Preservationist

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David Maine’s retelling of the Biblical story of Noah (Noe, in this telling) and his ark, The Preservationist, is earthy, near-lyric and as tangible as the dung of countless pairs of beasts befouling the lower decks of a floating menagerie, the sharp sour-sweet taste of the first honey-fortified postdiluvian wine, the fervent and frequent shipboard copulation of six people whose loins must eventually repopulate a new-scrubbed creation.

The eye of Maine’s prose does not look away from the undignified parts of the story of the flood (urination, sex in close quarters), the improbable ones (where do they get all those animals or the wood for the ark?), nor does it flinch from asking the most difficult questions about the flood (what kind of creator could seem to care so little for his creation?).

The story is told from the points of view of Noe’s wife, his three sons and their wives. All represent types. The sons, for example, include the callow youth, the unimaginative but devoted servant and the disrespectful but gifted rebel. But all also transcend type to become as genuine as people as are the utterly solid land, the rising sea, the ark, the beasts that Maine’s sparse but effective language conjures.

The women, especially, pop as living, breathing people, and it is their often dry, often lancing observations of their husbands and father-in-law that do the most to challenge the notion that the Yahweh worshipped by Noe could be worth that veneration considering his willingness to wipe out innocent men, women and children (children!) along with the guilty. But it is this very probing that makes the God of this novel all the more real, and the puzzle he presents these survivors all the more agonizingly relevant.

Each chapter is devoted to the first person voice of a character, with the exception of Noe, whose chapters are presented in a third-person omniscient point of view.

This choice by Maine seems odd at first, but as the tale progresses, seems ever more apt as Noe, touched so directly by God, has taken on some of the characteristic remove of God, has receded a few steps further from us into the mystery than his wife, sons and daughters-in-law.

A few of Maine’s language choices also create stumbling blocks early on, only to prove natural as the story progresses and the reader enters the world of the novel more fully. These include his choice to call Noah by the Greek version, Noe, and by his choice to mix an anachronistic blend of contemporary vernacular and imagined period language – “go rut yourself” is a fine example. The Noe choice is especially apt, because it helps us to hear the story as freshly as possible, removing some of the familiarity, and with it some of the preconceived notions as to what the story is about and what it could or should mean.

I have rarely experienced a book as tactilely as I experienced Maine’s The Preservationist, nor, curiously, can I recall recently being as moved toward reverence as I was by Maine’s most delightfully irreverent, or at least baffled-by-reverence, voices (the voices of the wives in the story).

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About Ernesto Burden

  • Georgio

    The story of Noah is one of the reasons I came to the conclusion that the bible was not authored by God and if it was than this God is not someone I would follow..In short ..either the bible is full of shit or this God is rotten because anyone who would kill innocent ppl and then begin a new creation through incest is not some God to honor..

  • http://ernesto.burdenfamily.net Ernesto

    Of course the flood in the story of Noah doesn’t have to be understood as God killing innocent people, any more than a natural disaster or a car accident does. The real question, both in the Noah story and in Job, is “why does God allow this?” The answer God gives in Job is basically, “the answer is beyond you.” The “problem of evil” exists whether one has regard for Biblical authority or not, and stories like Job and Noah’s may provide some clues to how we can understand it.

    Regarding the incest comment, in Maine’s book, and the original story, Noe’s sons were not married to their sisters, and Maine has Noe ensure that their offspring will marry cousins, not siblings. This still won’t be likely to mollify someone with so visceral a reaction to the story, but I add it for the sake of clarification…

    Best Regards

  • Georgio

    Of course the flood in the story of Noah doesn’t have to be understood as God killing innocent people, any more than a natural disaster or a car accident does…..
    What kind of comparison is this?..A natural disaster is through nature…what God did was intentional and even he admits it was something he would not do again..this makes him out to be either stupid or an EVIL God..if you do not see incest in this story than look at the bible ..it is full of incest and you know it..I actually believed most of Scripture and what the Church preached until I researched the bible and saw that it was full of evil incest and murder..anyone who would follow the God thats in the bible is afraid of the truth..which is ..there is no truth..
    saying the answer is beyond you is pure bullshit …the answer is…you will find out only after you die..fundamentalists believe in God and the bible only because it gives them a sense of security not because they know truth..truth scares the shit out of them.

  • http://ernesto@burdenfamily.net Ernesto

    I’d rather not get into an expletive-laced argument over this … nor am I trying to change your opinion. I’m not sure why, however, you insist on such literalist readings of Old Testament stories that, by the very nature of the genre they were written in, were clearly often intended to express true things in non-literal ways including allegory and poetic language (especially since you say you disregard the Bible entirely anyhow)…

    Also, isn’t insisting that “there is no truth,” a paradox? Can we say true things if there’s no truth?

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    Ernesto, i enjoyed this review a lot, and i must say you handled that comments-discussion incredibly well.

    i’m one of the Old Testament-as-fables crowd, myself. i find it very difficult to accept that people take these tales literally. but then again, there are people who assume Bring It On to be something other than the obvious work of a divine being, so who knows?

    anyway, great review, written wonderfully.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    I’m not sure we aren’t meant to regard Bring It On as a fable, as well, oh, Duke – your well-known Dunstolatry aside, of course.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Bring It On works on so many levels.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty
  • http://ernestoburden.com Ernesto

    Maybe in order to fully realize what parts of Bring It On should be treated as literal and what parts should be treated as fable, one must harmonize it with Bring It On Again.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    An Editors’ pick of the week from the section editor. Thank you.

    Go HERE for a button you can put on your blog and to look at the other picks.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    Ernesto, i refuse to speak the name of Br**g It O* Aga**

    A Kirstenless charade, is all it is