Noah and his wife take on a boatload of animals and family members—and the close quarters lead to situations that would try the patience of Job…but that’s another story.
Kanner’s debut novel is based on the Old Testament story of Noah’s wife, an unnamed woman who’s been shunned since birth for the mark of a demon, a raspberry birthmark, she bears on her forehead. Her mother is long gone, but her father does his best to shield her from harm and arranges for his 19-year-old daughter to marry Noah, a taciturn man dedicated to preaching about the God of Adam. He takes his wife to Sorum, the town of exiles, where prostitutes, murderers and others sinners run rampant. Old Noah’s sight and hearing aren’t what they used to be, but he’s surprisingly frisky for a more than 600-year-old man. He sires three sons: Shem, who often clings to his mother; Japheth, who prefers fighting to settle scores; and Ham, the funny son with the sharp wit whom his mother favors. Noah’s wife also develops a fondness for Herai, a young girl with mental limitations. She tries to convince Noah that Herai will be a good match for one of their sons, but Noah, fearing that his grandchildren will be similarly afflicted, refuses to permit the marriage. When Noah claims that God is sending a flood to destroy mankind and has chosen his family to build an ark, ride out the storm while tending to the animals they are tasked with saving, and repopulate the Earth once the floodwaters have receded, he’s the subject of ridicule in the community. But the family does as Noah instructs, and as the rains begin, they embark on their voyage. Sibling rivalries become more pronounced aboard the vessel now that each brother has a wife (Ona, Herai and Zilpha), and their mother proves her strength and character as she tries to protect her family from each and from the outside forces that threaten.
Kanner successfully undertakes a formidable task retelling a familiar religious story through the eyes of Noah’s wife. The narrative’s well-articulated, evenly balanced and stimulating—but it’s definitely not the familiar tale that’s so frequently illustrated in children’s books.