Naslund’s ‘Adam Eve’ a strange time in Eden

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sena Jeter Naslund’s curious “Adam & Eve” defies genres and description.
On one hand it is a surreal story of a woman whose plane crashes in an Edenic garden, somewhere in Mesopotamia, and Adam, an Adonis-like man of questionable mental status.
On the other hand, it’s a story of a memory stick that holds details of the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
On the third hand, it’s the story of a Franco-Egyptian expert on ancient cave paintings and a mysterious text that could change mankind’s understanding of the creation story.
And, it’s the story of a fanatical group called Perpetuity, which will do anything to quash talk of life elsewhere or any challenge to a literal interpretation of the Bible.
“Adam & Eve” is part romance novel, with Lucy as Eve to Adam. It’s part thriller as Lucy, Adam and others escape the murderous hands of Perpetuity. It’s part fantasy, in the impossible Eden. It’s part history, deep in the decorated caves. It’s part theology and philosophy.
It is not an exploration of the possibility of life on other planets. That intriguing plot detail is never fleshed out. The discovery remains trapped in that memory stick Lucy wears around her neck.
The codex, lost and found, lost and found again and nearly lost again, reveals a different interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis, but we never learn of its impact on the world.
The bulk of the novel takes place in Eden. Lucy has lost her astrophysicist husband in a bizarre accident. She is pursued by his colleague, Gabriel Plum, who encourages her to join him on a trip to Egypt, where she meets Pierre Saad, and his daughter, Arielle, who entrust her with a secret mission. It just so happens Lucy can fly a plane, and it just so happens Pierre has one just like the one she learned on. He entrusts to her a French horn case containing a codex of Genesis that could change our views of the Bible.
Hinting at sabotage, Lucy crashes on a beach and is burned. Naturally, she has crashed in Eden, and the naked man she sees there is Adam. Lucy quickly learns Adam is a troubled soul, but he tends to her injuries and caters to her needs. Is it all a dream? It could be. There should be no such garden in the area Lucy is flying over.
Eden is tropical and temperate. Adam treats Lucy’s burns with aloe. When Lucy wishes for fruit, Adam returns with a pear. When she longs for vegetables, Adam finds a garden, surrounded by roses. They sleep in a warm climate surrounded by shade trees; they escape torrential rains under a rocky overhang.
They see jets flying overhead or exploding in the distance, but they are never harmed. One day, a jet drops a parachuted man into the redwoods — providing another bizarre episode involving a violent feral boy. Is it a modern Cain and Abel story?
When a zebra stampede caused by angry lions erupts, Eden is compromised, they determine to leave.
Lucy makes for what she knows as Baghdad, and just as they near their goal, what looks like rescue turns into a planned attack from Perpetuity, headed by Plum, Thom’s former colleague. His intentions are deadly, focused on the memory stick.
Adam strikes back and Lucy saves the day, stealing the attackers’ plane and flying to civilization, where Adam accepts reality. She seeks Pierre Saad and his daughter, Arielle, to complete her mission with the codex.
The surreal tone does not change, but it now inhabits a lush French house, peopled with wise men and a deep secret hidden in the earth below. While Adam and Lucy recover and Saad interprets the text, Perpetuity arrives again, turning what could be called the climax of the novel into a thriller.
As is necessary in such an atmosphere, people are hurt and die, suffering for their greed or paying the price of being a bystander. As the novel draws to a close, Lucy is piloting a plane again, traveling to another Eden — the Olduvai Gorge, where a skeleton, called Lucy, was discovered as the earliest human.
The end also promises fecundity and sacrifice, a hint at the evil in the world, and a blossoming of new life.
The novel does not answer the questions of life beyond earth; that is left to the future; nor does it show a change in the world’s view of the origins of man. These topics become incidental to the plot. What matters are the people, as if they continue to exist in their own, private Eden.
Naslund raises so many questions of science and religion, but does not attempt an answer. It seems her answer is that we cannot know. Readers are left with a series of images, of feelings, unsure of what the message is.
Naslund wrote in a blog entry in October 2010: “Like many fanfares, there are three notes, combined, to travel the air from me to you: Da, Da, Da. Give yourself to a less literal reading of holy writ; control your fear about how science redefines us; sympathize, through art, with how others experience reality. ‘Adam & Eve’ suggests that the most important commandment is to eschew violence, especially in the name of religion.”
And there you readers have a jump start to your questions of Naslund, who is the featured author at the Brady Author’s Symposium Thursday at Catawba College. Her lecture is at 11 a.m. in Hedrick Theatre, with a book signing at 1:15 p.m. in the lobby of Keppel Auditorium. Your chance to get closer and ask questions comes at 2 p.m., back in Hedrick.
Tickets are available through the Catawba Public Relations Office at 704-637-4393. The lecture is $20, book signing is free, and the Q&A session is $10.