The Preservationist by David Maine is a filthy, dirty, stinking book.
The people within it are crude and unlovely, undeodorized, uncreme-rinsed – you can smell them. You can feel the roughness of their calloused hands, and see the cracked skin of their ugly, hard-as-leather feet and tight, sinewy shoulders. Upon them is the lingering stench of all manner of unlovely animal by-products. They are damp, both the people and the animals, and you can almost smell the mildew as you read about them.
They, of course, are Noah (or, Noe) and his family, and The Preservationist is a terrific retelling of one of the bible’s most difficult-to-believe stories.
At 256 pages, the book is a fast read, but it is a splendid fast read, as Maine takes you through Noe and his family’s ordeal in first and third person narratives – allowing different voices to tell a story which could otherwise quickly grow stale and claustrophobic. He creates fascinating and sympathetic characters that jump off the page in their humanity, allowing the reader to find commonality with a 600 year old man, his clever, never-named wife and their sons and daughters-in-law, even across a 5,000 year divide.
It helps that Maine’s language moves from anachronistic name-calling to almost Celtic cadences, to sheer – quite elevated – prose-poetry. With such surprising and delightful flashes of linguistic skill, this familiar story becomes brand new and believable, and the reader marvels at Maine’s solutions to those troubling parts of the ancient Noah narrative: where did he get the wood and pitch (from the Giants, of course, the Philistines who have a decidedly Scots-Irish bent to their manner and mien). How did they get all those animals collected? Ah, the stories of the two daughters-in-law sent off to the tasks are fascinating forays into misogyny, superstition, faith, miracles and – oh, yes – there is the odd Phoenician and his twirling-lemons theory of how the earth moves around the sun, and the moon around the earth, which all comes into play. The animal-collection stories are delicious to read. And one of them even suggests a solution to the nagging question: so who did Noe’s grandkids marry?
Faith informs the whole tale. Grumbling faith. New, wide-eyed faith. Maturing faith. Angry faith. Pragmatic faith. Shrugging, whaddya-gonna-do, acquiescent faith. Humorous faith. Obedient faith. Loving faith. Faithful love. There is nothing remotely preachifying in this book, and there is no mawkish sentimentality.
For all that The Preservationist is a “filthy” book, it is a remarkably “clean” book in that this talented writer takes you into the desert, into the ark, into the dreary, endless water ride, into the renewed earth and never once tells you what to think or how to feel. He does not condescend to the reader, or play him for a chump. He simply lays out his tale, respectfully, intelligently and quite beautifully, and allows the reader to find his or her own way, just as Noe – after all is said and done – must find his own way, and his children must find theirs.
That’s the real story of faith, isn’t it?
This is a wonderful book, a really brilliant debut novel, and I heartily recommend it.
And, as you can guess, I have helpfully added it to the top of The Anchoress Bookshelf (scroll down the sidebar a bit). As always, anything you order at Amazon via my bookshelf will generate kickbacks which are 100% donated to the excellent hospice which helped our family during my brother’s last days. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.