Schenck (The Birdcatcher, 2013) recasts the book of Genesis as a novel.
The opening remarks of Schenck’s new novel might unsettle non-Christian or nonreligious readers: “If you have never experience[d] the Holy Ghost’s presence, I will tell you this: it is an extraordinary bathing of pure, essential radiance.” But dismayed readers need not worry: The long novel that follows these opening remarks is far more interested in entertaining than proselytizing. “This is not Dune nor playful invention,” Schenck warns, but when he sets himself to retelling the biblical stories of creation, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his entertaining storytelling instincts come to the fore, and a tale emerges that’s very different from the familiar narrative of the book of Genesis. Told to eager first-century listeners by a very old Apostle John, this story and its contents are cleverly altered by Schenck to accommodate modern science. Life on Earth happens in waves of creation and extinction (angels visit the planet while it’s still ruled by gigantic, savage dinosaurs), until God decides to change the pattern of mindless, cyclical destruction: “The Father soothingly whispered to Michael the archangel, ‘Now we will create something different. Something glorious.’ ” The chapters that follow are familiar yet engagingly changed, united both by Schenck’s personal faith and his keen ear for dialogue. For instance, when the Philistine king Abimelech is astonished to hear that Abraham talks to God, Abraham calmly replies, “Yes, friends do that with each other, you know. We like each other.” Schenck also adeptly pens breakneck action sequences, especially those filling out the long narrative of scrappy Jacob’s adventures among the Philistines. Fans of religious and historical fiction—perhaps Walter Wangerin’s masterpiece The Book of God (1998) in particular—will find a great deal in these pages to keep them entertained.
Richly enjoyable biblical fiction.