Friday, November 21, 2008

The Garden (book) by Elsie V. Aidinoff

In this retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and their time in Eden, Aidinoff chooses to tell things from Eve's perspective, beginning with her creation. Eve is cared for and educated by the Serpent, while God cares for and educates Adam. The Serpent delights in Eve's creativity and her desire to question and explore her world. When Eve first meets God and Adam, she's in for a frustrating time, because God is not nearly as easy-going and accepting as the Serpent. God, although affectionate, created Adam and Eve for his own companionship and amusement and is frustrated whenever they don't act exactly as he expects them to act. In his impatience to see them perform one of their most important functions (second only to providing him companionship), God rushes the physical relationship between Adam and Eve, leaving Adam ashamed and Eve emotionally damaged. In its anger at God's treatment of Eve, the Serpent takes her away and forbids him and Adam from seeing her for a while. While her emotions settle and heal, Eve explores the world outside the Garden with the Serpent, explorations which eventually lead to the appearance of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent's banishment from the Garden.

Some might see this as a feminist book, since Eve is, in general, more thoughtful and clever than Adam. However, I don't think all this is really an indication that Eve is better than Adam - it's just that she was raised by someone who was more willing to encourage her to grow in whatever direction she felt comfortable. Had the Serpent raised Adam, he might very well have grown up more thoughtful. Actually, he didn't turn out too badly, considering.

In this day and age, I imagine that there are quite a few Christians who wouldn't necessarily be uncomfortable with the idea that Eve was not to blame for everyone being thrown out of Eden. However, I do imagine that there are many Christians who will be upset with Aidinoff's God and Serpent. Aidinoff's God is jealous, quick to anger, rigid in his ideas, lacks empathy for others, and likes the sound of others praising him. He's also awe-inspiring and nice when he's in a good mood. Whatever others might think of him, I thought he actually matched rather well with the God I remembered reading about in the Old Testament. In comparison, the Serpent was kind, level-headed, wise, and open to new ideas - it took me ages before I stopped watching carefully for some sign that the Serpent was going to turn out to be a liar. Actually, the Serpent rarely lies and cares more for Eve and Adam's well-being than God seems to.

Aidinoff's interpretation of this story, God, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent will probably limit the number of people who'd be willing to read this book and who would enjoy it. I found this book in the young adult section of my public library and, although I agree that young adults would probably enjoy it (the themes of dealing with authority, changing, and growing up would probably interest many teens), I'd probably only recommend this book to older teens. The two sex scenes, although not very graphic, might be too much for some younger readers. The first sex scene was upsetting. God encourages Eve and Adam to have sex, so that he can be assured that his design turned out as perfectly as he thinks it did. Adam doesn't really want to at first (he's tired out from running for fun), but God insists and Eve tells him it's okay, since the Serpent told her it would be enjoyable. Eve changes her mind when it becomes apparent that it's going to hurt, but Adam is caught up by then and doesn't stop, and God assures her that it can't possibly hurt, because that's not how he designed it to work.

Saying too much about the second sex scene spoils certain parts of the story, so you may want to skip this paragraph if you don't like that sort of thing - granted my summary spoiled a few things, too, but still. The second scene is much more pleasant for Eve, and in some ways it's less descriptive than the first, probably because Eve isn't entirely awake at the time. Although it was a good experience for Eve, it made me uncomfortable, because of who her partner was. I hadn't seen that relationship developing between the two of them, and, as a result, the whole thing felt uncomfortably incestuous to me. This statement practically gives away who Eve's lover was, but I always thought of this character as more of her parent than as a potential lover.

I thought that Aidinoff's idea of things getting away from God was really interesting. It kind of made me think of the clockwork view of the universe. Aidinoff's God would create things and then abandon them when he tired of them. Without his direct influence, these things would change in unexpected ways - new plants grew, blizzards came into being, etc. It's a view of the world that allows for a God who created everything, but that also allows for things to change and turn out differently than the plan that God originally laid out. Both good things and bad things in the world are therefore not the necessarily due to God's direct influence.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It had some weaknesses - I already mentioned how I felt about the second sex scene. Besides that, I thought that, in a book where the emotions and behaviors of the characters felt so real and believable, Adam and Eve's learning process and the naming of things ("I think we'll call that a blizzard," with no explanation for the naming choice) felt fake by comparison. I really enjoyed the characters, however. Eve felt very real to me, and the Serpent was wonderful and mysterious. I found God's childishness interesting, and even Adam, who seemed boring at first, turned out to be a character I wish Aidinoff had allowed readers to spend more time with.

Read-alikes:
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (book) by Christopher Moore - Biff, Christ's childhood pal, is brought back from the dead by an angel so that he can tell the the parts of the story of Christ's life that are missing from the Bible. Biff does so, and it is, for the most part, irreverent, touching, and funny. Biff's tale eventually overlaps with the the part of Christ's life that can be found in the Bible, which is where things get heartbreaking. Those who'd like another story that takes its inspiration from the Bible might want to try this book.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Although the Christian religion is not one of the main focuses of this series, certain recognizable characters and places turn up - Eve, Hell, angels, etc. Those who'd like another story in which religious characters and places are presented in an interesting, new, and real-feeling way might want to try this series.
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (book) by Gregory Maguire - This book tells the story of Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West, as she deals with childhood, college, and eventually the events of L. Frank Baum's book. The Wicked Witch of the West is re-imagined as a sympathetic and empathetic character that readers will want to cheer on - however, Maguire doesn't change Baum's original ending for the Witch. Those who'd just like a story that re-imagines a well-known story and character in an interesting new way might want to try this book.
  • Archangel (book) by Sharon Shinn - This book, the first in a series, is set in what appears to be a utopian society. Angels walk among regular human beings and sing to the god Jovah for whatever aid humans might need (for example, weather manipulation in order to end a drought). Gabriel is next in line to become the archangel, and he must have the wife Jovah has chosen for him singing by his side when it's time for him to assume his new position. Unfortunately, he's waited until nearly the last possible moment to find Rachel, the woman who is to be his wife, and she turns out to be a slave who hates all angels. Those who'd like another book that features a strong female character and an interesting twist on a Christian idea might like this.

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