Maine’s superb third novel continues his sly examination of the Old Testament, this time delineating the story of Samson and Dalila.
The Preservationist (2004) and Fallen (2005) stand as far more than jaunty, modern retellings (of Noah and the Ark and Adam and Eve, respectively), and this tale, too, offers a dark, thought-provoking account of the Bible’s great warrior and judge. As Samson begins his narrative, he is already imprisoned by the Philistines, blind and chained, his hair shorn and his strength gone. All he has left is his tale, and this he spreads out before the reader in all its bloody, bawdy glory. At Samson’s birth (foretold by an angel who issues the vital warning that he must never drink wine, touch a dead body or cut his hair), the newborn sits up between his mother’s legs and crushes a rock in his tiny fist. His size and strength are Herculean, and he has been sent by God to deliver his people from heathens. Samson, not the wisest of fellows, takes these words literally, killing Philistines and Canaanites, razing their crops and villages, wreaking murderous havoc whenever his God (though more often he himself) has been dishonored. The central episodes of the novel come directly from the Bible—he tears apart a lion with his bare hands (frightening his parents with his violence), kills 30 men at his wedding feast because of a riddle gone wrong, kills thousands with the jawbone of an ass in a slaughter that leaves him knee-deep in body parts. Then there’s sexy Dalila, a warrior of another kind, to whom Samson loses his power and heart. Maine contemporizes these mythic tales and questions the kind of zealot who delights in killing for God, the kind of man who denies humanity to his victims. Samson speaks of the strange buzzing he hears when he kills so righteously and the speed and strength given to him by God to murder. It is chilling indeed when the line between hero and serial killer is blurred.
Provocative and beautifully told—a breakout novel for Maine.