Fallen (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Fallen, the title of David Maine’s second novel, obviously refers to humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve, and their unfortunate offspring Cain and Abel. Although the account in the biblical book of Genesis is straightforward, Maine presents its events in reverse order, through the perceptions of his four major characters, while everyone grows younger. In this respect, the book is reminiscent of Nobel Prize-winner Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal (pr. 1978), which likewise begins with short scenes from the unhappy present and works backward to a more idyllic time.
Maine begins with the imminent death of the fratricidal Cain as an old man, moves back through his youthful murder of his brother, Abel (which is covered in a single sentence), and ends with Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. God is almost an afterthought, manifesting himself occasionally “in the form of a gray-bellied cloud” or rock and speaking cryptically in italics.
The novel is composed of four sections and forty short chapters, several with identical titles to signal a shift in viewpoint. Because the events are familiar, there is little suspense. Instead, the delight comes in Maine’s witty, unorthodox version, which is replete with irony. This First Family represents a multitude of races. Father Adam is bandy-legged and dark-skinned, with black, kinky hair; copper-haired Eve is pale and gray-eyed, with a propensity to give birth to twins; slender Abel has olive skin, brown curls, and green eyes. The recalcitrant Cain is, ironically, the blue-eyed, fair-haired boy.
The sons appear first. At the beginning, Cain is seen as an old man dying in a wet climate, crippled and dogged by a murderer’s guilt. He recalls a time early in his wandering when he began to recognize the full ramifications of his actions, after he encountered a teenager who had stoned a man to death for “stuff I wanted” and who told Cain admiringly, “You were the, the, inspiration.” Currently, Cain is shunned by all, even his own grandchildren. Only his loyal son Henoch, builder of a mighty city that Cain himself designed, cares for him, even though as a child Henoch nearly died at the hands of his angry father. Cain’s wife Zoru, the only woman who never feared him, was older than he and no beauty, yet he still grieves her absence these many years after her death from plague. The ghost of his brother visits him frequently for intense discussions. When Cain impulsively asks for forgiveness, Abel does not answer.
Cain is the rebel figure, angry and scornful. As a teenager, he shrugs repeatedly, infuriating his father. He argues with Adam against making a burnt offering of food when they have precious little for themselves, because it makes no sense. When he brings stale food as his reluctant offering to God, he is scolded, yet at the same time the shepherd Abel is permitted to sacrifice two decrepit sheep, rather than healthy young ones. Cain’s problems intensify in a few years when God, with choking smoke, famously refuses his hard-earned offering of a bountiful harvest, while Abel’s offering of sheep is accepted, enriching him fortyfold. After Cain angrily challenges God’s response, Adam warns him not to curse God and banishes him when he persists. Abel tries to mediate; Eve stays quiet.
There is a double standard working against Cain. His parents, and God, seem to favor Abel, who in turn notes that Cain and his father are very much alike, proud and stubborn. Eve is leery of her firstborn because she witnessed his twin brother born dead, with bruises and tiny handprints on his body. She believes that Cain killed him in her womb.
Abel is a lovely boy with a sunny disposition, but he is not much brighter than the troublesome ewe he calls Rockhead. He is placid, good-natured, and hopeless with numbers, as he is the first to admit. To his mother he is a perfect child, her joy. Abel reminds her of Eden, her home, but Cain’s blue eyes remind her that the blue skies of the garden are lost forever, and she cannot forget it. Cain in turn resents Abel’s “bland joyous righteous infuriating face” because he is always eager to give their younger siblings(and Cain) advice, even when it is not good; his two favorite words appear to be “should” and “shouldn’t.” Abel is essentially a peacemaker, attempting to maintain harmony within the family. Adam sometimes views him, less kindly, as a busybody.
Abel, however, is unquestioningly kind. Missing Cain after Adam sends...
(The entire section is 1854 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Booklist 101, no. 22 (August, 2005): 1993.
Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 14 (July 15, 2005): 759.
The New York Times 154 (September 8, 2005): E9.
The New York Times Book Review 154 (October 30, 2005): 25.
People 64, no. 15 (October 10, 2005): 53.
Publishers Weekly 252, no. 28 (July 18, 2005): 179.
The Washington Post, October 2, 2005, p. T4.