Even the world's very first family was seriously dysfunctional, or so argues David Maine in his imaginative, insightful second novel, FALLEN. In Maine's debut novel, 2004's THE PRESERVATIONIST, he focused on the Old Testament story of Noah's flood. Now, with FALLEN, Maine returns to the Book of Genesis from the very beginning, exploring the story of Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, as well as the story of the world's first murder, when Adam and Eve's oldest son Cain killed his brother Abel.
In Maine's novel, Cain is bitter, angry and resentful, yet oddly sympathetic. Cursed to wander about until the end of his days, marked by God with a mark that ostensibly keeps him from harm but actually reveals his true identity (and its accompanying dread) to all he meets, Cain lacks any support beyond his small family.
As Cain's history is revealed, Maine grounds the young man's hatred of his father in larger family dynamics. Abel is the family golden boy, beloved by both God and by his parents. Cain, on the other hand, is despised for his skepticism and for his murder (according to Eve) of his stillborn twin brother in utero. Cain's crime can't be forgiven, perhaps, but Maine makes it possible to understand the circumstances that lead to such a shocking event in human history.
Although FALLEN lacks the multiple voices that enriched THE PRESERVATIONIST, it is no less compelling. What is most impressive is how Maine weaves, from a few short verses in Genesis, a fully fleshed novel that expands on the Biblical narrative while still remaining true to its source. Chances are that many readers will return to the original text after reading Maine's retelling.
The structure of Maine's novel is also inventive; in 40 chapters divided into four parts, Maine tells the story in reverse chronological order, beginning with a middle-aged Cain in exile and ending immediately following Adam and Eve's loss of paradise. Each section begins with the same chapter title as the last chapter in the previous section, and other chapter titles ("The Stranger," "The Conversation," "The Proposal") are repeated throughout, giving the impression of a highly structured poem, like a sonnet. The creativity and elegance of this approach reflect Maine's admirable control of his prose.
The result of this reverse chronological approach is a stunning and surprisingly emotional account of humans' ultimate and inevitable failings. We're reminded of the wider implications of Cain's crime in a disturbing scene where a young boy admits that he, too, committed murder solely because he was inspired by Cain's own actions. FALLEN, and the ideas it inspires, will resonate with all thoughtful readers, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliations.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 21, 2011