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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction

by David Maine

(St Martin's Press, $23.95, 244 pages; hardcover, published in September 2005.)

cover scanIn Fallen, David Maine retells the saga of humanity's mythical first family, detailing their travails from their expulsion from Eden to Cain's final days -- or, rather, vice-versa. In a bold and oddly effective move, Maine tells this story in reverse chronological order.

The focus gradually shifts from Cain to Abel to Adam and, finally, to Eve. As can be expected, the four do not interpret events in quite the same way. That creates an interesting tension, as readers must forge a vision of the story from this composite. At play also are whatever expectations readers bring to this oft-told tale.

Maine's decision to tell the story backwards factors in readers' prior knowledge. It's too easy to make assumptions when characters refer to past events we have yet to read about. We think we know the story. Maine plays with this, constantly teasing with allusions that feed our expectations, only to then surprise us. That dissonance creates suspense, rewarding close attention to the author's carefully planted details. It's not that Maine changes the story; it's more that he rationalizes it thoroughly.

How would it really be for a pair of humans living in a paradise where all their needs were met to be suddenly dumped into a world that didn't care whether they lived or died? The family's relentless struggle becomes a mythical metaphor for tens of thousands of years of human invention.

Maine leaves several mysteries unexplained. Who or what is this God? If Adam and his family are the first and only humans, exactly who or what are these other humans they encounter?

Maine's text is wry and playful with these questions. That they cannot be answered satisfactorily within the context of the biblical creation myth is at the heart of the conflicts that drive this intriguing novel.

Originally published, in slightly different form, in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 7 January 2006.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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