BWW Reviews: THE FLOOD Realistically Re-Imagines The Life and Times of Noah
"Noe glances toward the heavens, something he does a lot these days. Scanning for clouds. None visible amid the stars, so he finishes urinating, shakes himself dry and makes his way back to the house." This is the opening of THE FLOOD, David Maine's adaptation of the biblical story of Noe (upholding the spelling in the Douay Bible). In these three sentences, Maine makes his approach is to his source material pretty clear: Noe reverence and faith is underscored by his crude realism. Likewise Maine treats his authorial power with respect while making sure to create a realistic portrait of Noe's epic story.
THE FLOOD is being re-released ten years after its original publishing date to coincide with the slew of biblically-themed films coming out this year, most notably Darren Aronofsky's NOAH. THE FLOOD is also David Maine's first novel; since 2004, he has written biblical novels including FALLEN, an adaptation of Adam and Eve, and SAMSON.
THE FLOOD is at its most exciting and insightful when it tells the story of the ark through the perspectives of those around Noe. Each chapter adopts a different point of view- that of Noah, Noah's unnamed wife, their three sons, and their sons' wives. Through the eyes of Noah's family, we see a much fuller, more complex depiction of Noah the man. Through his wife, we glimpse a memory of their wedding night, framed as a callous encounter between a 600-year old man and his teenage bride. Through his sons, we see his faith, hard work, and dedication, as well as his intimidating stature as man of God and patriarch. Through his daughters-in-law we see a xenophobic, often insensitive man of his times. Noe's chapters are the only ones written in third person, which is an odd choice. It prevents the reader from getting too close enough to Noe to really understand him as a person. His character is only realized by those around him, which is one of the major flaws of the book. Few, if any, of the characters ever feel as real and tangible as their surroundings or situations.
Maine's retelling of this story is often elegant, simple, and moving. He embraces Noe's faith and wonder, while still contextualizing it in an authentically troubled and changing world. His daughters-in-law's perspectives are particularly useful and revelatory. Maine supplements the women's biblical roles with new authorities. Two of the wives, whom Maine names Ilya and Bera, are charged with gathering the animals from their home tribes. As they travel, they encounter people who still hold fast to older ancient religions and belief systems. Some of these tribes are savage and brutal, others see a universe with no God, others hold the women in fearful estimation. It's refreshing to be reminded that the religion of the Hebrews was very much a new, radical, and rather reactionary belief system that searched for ways to unify and purify a world they deemed as lost. THE FLOOD is as intriguingly truthful as it is novel and accessible.