This book is filthy dirty!

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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • GeraldBoSox

    Well, the Catholic Church does not teach that Noah & company + animals were the only creatures left on earth, it’s viewed as a metaphorized (is that a word?) version of the real flood events of the time – as witnessed to by other cultures, e.g., Gilgamesh.

    I have an Old Testament certificate from a very “conservative” professor – so that’s pretty “bulletproof”. “Reading the Old Testament” is a very interesting book, we used it for class.

  • GeraldBoSox

    what I meant by that is, it doesn’t have to be believed “literally”. I know the Jehovah’s Witnesses actually believe Noah and his family were the only people left on the planet – which is of course silly, and historically untrue. Thankfully we’re not fundamentalists :)

  • Julie D.

    I hadn’t heard of this but your review makes it sound fantastic. I definitely will have to give it a try. If I’m really lucky our library will have it.

    I don’t know if you’re a Madeleine L’Engle fan, as I am, but my favorite Noah story to date is “Many Waters.” As with all of her books it works on many levels (even though this one is for young adults).

  • Jeanette

    With all due respect if the Bible said the only people left were Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives, you’d better believe and understand that is the truth! I don’t care what your professor said or how ridiculous you think it is. If there was a flood that flooded the entire earth how do you figure anyone not in the ark survived? Did your professor have a reasonable explanation for that?

  • Jeanette

    PS I’m a Baptist and a fundamentalist and I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I’m not now nor have I ever been a Jehovah’s Witness, so more people than you imagine believe this is a true story as told in the Bible.

  • Bob Diethrich

    The Epic of Gilgamesh predates the origins of the Old Testament by over 2,000 years,and several similar elements are present in both stories. I believe the Greeks also have an antideluvian flood story as well. There are literally dozens of scienitific articles available on line that point to the utter impossibility of most elements of the story asking questions like: How did Noah take 900 or so years to build a wooden boat (even with tar and pitch) the first part would have rotted before he finished), How could a wooden craft that size even float (wooden ships that big were not built until the 19th Century and they required steel skeletons)and as far as the sheer impossibility of collecting, caring for and feeding all of those creatures? the list goes on. Noah’s ark is a metaphor and for that matter in my personal view not a nice metaphor for the character of God. I find it odd that this story is so beloved by children. God, petulantly destroys his entire creation, save eight human beings, because the entire population was evil. The entire population? What about the little children, the four and five year olds were committing sin and living evil lives so they needed to suffer a terrifying death? What about all those babies still in utero? The list goes on. God here seems to me more like Andrea Yates than the benevolant forgiving Father who sent us Jesus in the New Testement!

  • GeraldBoSox

    Bob – I am in the Master Catechist program of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, so, whereas I am just a lil mouse, I trust the Church – here is, in a nutshell, how the Old Testament is taught:
    The Old Testament shows the development of the Jewish idea of God – an ongoing revelation, from a tribal God to a universal God, from a thundering God to the “small voice” God of Elijah. Basically the Israelites learned more and more about God, and their spirituality changed greatly over time as well, culminating in the coming of the Messiah.

    Jeanette – 6 people left on earth and no animals but the ones on the Ark, some 4000 years ago is an historical impossibility. Where’d Noah have gotten a kangaroo ? :)
    I am willing to bet that there is no Catholic seminary, university, priest or bishop who’d teach this as a literal story. The Catholic Church does NOT claim Biblical inerrancy on matters of history, geography, biology and such, but in matters of faith. As Pope Leo XIII. said, the Bible does not teach “how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.”

    I don’t see the Old Testament as contradictory to the New, but as an evolution, culminating in it.

  • GeraldBoSox

    make that 8 people :)

  • GeraldBoSox
  • Bob Diethrich

    Thanks for the insight Gerald. I teach World History in the Bible Belt and you should see some of the shocked responses I get from my classes when we talk about the similarities between Gilgamesh and the Bible. It is great to see their little “Sunday School” minds awaken and begin to grasp the wonderful historical underpinnings of their faith. I get the same when we talk about the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, St. Paul and the times they lived in as subjects of the Roman Empire. BTW: Here are two links to some of the scientific inaccuracies in the flood story: and Warning: the second link may be offensive to some believers as it is written by an atheist who seems to enjoy mocking believers. Read at your own peril.

  • GeraldBoSox

    Bob – the Catholic Church employs many means of interpretation, the literal one being just one of them. Thus we don’t run into such problems. The other danger is of course to not believe anything, even doubt Jesus’ resurrection. Especially with Jewish writings one has to keep in mind their literary style – their tendency to tell a story about a person, when that person really stands for a whole tribe, to name just one example. Or, in the case of the New Testament, not knowing the Jewish literary genre of apocalyptic writings might lead one to read Revelation literally (as Jehovah’s Witnesses do).

    Just because our concept of writing about history entails literalism, doesn’t mean Jews wrote that way.

    In addition, the Old Testament is a gradual revelation of God to man, meaning, in the beginning the picture wasn’t as accurate as later on. One can nicely trace this in the various strands of the Old Testament – the Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly and Deuteronomist sources, each accentuating other aspects of faith.

    The Bible is easily defensible, if read the approximately right way.

  • TheAnchoress

    I’d just like to point out that this blog is not a strictly “Catholic” blog, but welcomes and enjoys the company of Evangelical Christians and other “seperated brethren.” Indeed, some of the Protestant participants here are dear friends I would not want to see insulted by a dismissive suggestion that their ideas or provicial or “un-enlightened.” I have no problem with anyone getting into a theological discussion on whether or not Noah and the ark are “real” or metaphorical, etc. But please keep it respectful and non-condescending. For myself, I wouldn’t mind it a bit if some expedition team finally got to that strange, unidentifiable object on the side of Mt. Ararat and discovered that …hey…it’s twoo, it’s twoo! :-)

    In all seriousness – the recent commonality that Evangelicals and Catholics are discovering is very exciting and promising. Seems to me the utmost respect is the order of the day.

  • Jeanette

    Anchoress et al,
    I took no offense at the comments on this thread. It’s interesting how some believe the different stories in the Bible. I had no idea some faiths taught it wasn’t a real flood. I happen to believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and if it’s in there it’s not a parable unless Jesus was telling us a parable. I also believe literally the Book of Revelation tells what will happen, although John didn’t have the means to describe modern weapons. And, Gerald, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe only 144,000 souls will get to heaven and they are the leaders and founders of their cult. Revelation plainly states 144,000 Jews will immediately accept Jesus as the Messiah; 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also do not believe Jesus is the only begotten son of God and was and is the messiah. Nor do they believe He is equal to the Father and was risen from the dead. I guess what I’m saying is please don’t compare mainstream Protestant denominations with the cult of Jehovah Witnesses or even Mormons.

    I have enjoyed the exchange of ideas and one day God will tell us all Himself how the boat didn’t rot after 900 years. (All things are possible with Him.) or he’ll tell me I’m full of beans. God bless you, brother. :)

  • GeraldBoSox

    Jeanette – we do believe there was a literal flood but not that it only left 8 people on earth and no animals save the ones on the Ark. It’s very common in Jewish literature to have a person stand for a people or a tribe.

    Various flood myths can be found all over the world, some very similar to the Noah story.

    As far as the Book of Revelation is concerned, there’s a reason why it almost didn’t make the Bible. It was written in a now nearly forgotten style or genre, apocalyptic writings, that used metaphors and symbolism as a form of code, to fool e.g. Roman authorities. When it comes to numbers in the Bible, they have a symbolic quality many times, indicating e.g. earthly perfection, heavenly perfection and so forth. So the more one discovers about the people who wrote the Bible, the more one will be able to distinguish symbolism, legend, metaphor and so forth from literal events. For example, no Christian back then thought the Resurrection was a symbol, whereas later on some theologians denied it, which of course makes the entire faith pointless and, I think, people like that shouldn’t call themselves Christians. However, since the Bible is not a book to learn science or history from, it makes no difference whether something is historically or scientifically inaccurate. Often it is not even inaccurate, we just measure it with standards that the original authors didn’t have in mind.

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  • Jeanette

    Oh, come on, Least Loved Bedtime Stories, this evangelical Baptist bought the book. If the Anchoress recommends it that’s good enough for me and if it doesn’t agree with my beliefs at least I will have seen how the other half believes. ;)


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