The year is 2020, and not much has changed. Human beings are still killing each other over religion, and evidence of life on other planets, if exposed, would certainly rock some fundamentalist boats. So when Lucy Bergmann’s astrophysicist husband Thom tenderly hangs a computer memory stick storing irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial life around her neck, Lucy is both moved and nervous. In their Amsterdam hotel room, he has just shown her the computer images he intends to present at a lecture later that afternoon. But he never gives the talk. He is killed by a falling piano on the city sidewalk --- a freak accident. Or is it?
Lucy, who loved her gallant, much older husband with all her heart, is devastated by his death. “I grew up, really, within the safe boundaries of a loving marriage,” she tells us, in the first-person narrative that constitutes most of ADAM & EVE. Several months later she travels to Egypt to speak at a symposium convened to continue Thom’s work, and is approached by one Pierre Saad, who eventually asks her to smuggle an important codex out of the country for him. Depressed and adrift emotionally, still wearing the memory stick around her neck, Lucy agrees. “I rather liked the idea of being at risk. It made me feel more alert.” Pierre and his fetching daughter, Arielle, scare up a small, old airplane for Lucy (who happens to be a pilot, as well as an art therapist), and she sets off toward France with the codex packed in a sealed, specially designed French horn case.
Meanwhile, a handsome, damaged American man named Adam is coming to life on the shore of a river, naked and alone. Dumped on the road by soldiers after being raped, beaten and left for dead, he finds himself in a kind of paradise, and feels that God is creating him anew as he heals. Lucy’s plane crashes in this paradise, providing him a half-dead and badly burned companion, naked like himself, whom he insists on calling Eve. Marooned here with Adam, worrying about the whereabouts of the codex, wanting to get back to civilization but increasingly content to live from day to day in this world where cows wander up with full udders, begging to be milked, Lucy gradually comes to trust and even admire her strange companion. “He was crazy, but he was happy.”
I truly can say I have never read a book quite like this one. Is it a mystery? A thriller? A romance? A philosophical treatise? While elements of all of those inhabit the novel, it transcends the boundaries of any genre it flirts with. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, it might degrade into a flimsy pastiche, but Sena Jeter Naslund’s lyrical, exact prose kept me engaged. Sensual details bloom in the reader’s mind, like the cow’s warm milk (“thin and laserlike”) being squirted by Adam into Lucy’s mouth, or the alabaster jar that Pierre Saad unearths in the hills around Nag Hammadi. “This one was only the size of a human stomach. Weighing perhaps seven pounds, it was squat and almost oval in shape, with a lid that fit so closely one could hardly see that it was a lid.... He tried to pull up the lid, there on the spot, though all his professionalism said No, not to do that. The alabaster casket was wiser than he. It would not open.”
Throw in a nefarious fundamentalist organization called Perpetuity determined to get their hands on the memory stick and the codex, desperate chases through caves of southern France, grand ideas and beliefs about the universe and humanity’s place in it, and you begin to have an idea of the scope of this strangely compelling, well-crafted, truly original novel.
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on December 22, 2010
Adam & Eve