Set in nineteenth-century New England, this exquisite novel tests a woman’s love against her husband’s utopian quest.
Sophy Hedge, the artistic daughter of the town's minister, falls in love with Gideon Birdsall, a driven theology student assisting her father with a Hebrew lexicon. Sophy is drawn to Gideon's intellect, passion, and spiritual nature, while Gideon glimpses in her a free soul unbound by convention. Yet Gideon's restlessness after they wed worries Sophy, and she finds his friendship with Leander Solloway, the charismatic new schoolmaster, a cause for anxiety. As the men immerse themselves in Gideon’s mystical theories, Sophy translates her fears into secret paintings.
When Sophy becomes pregnant, Gideon and Leander construct a faux Eden in a greenhouse as part of a daring experiment to discover the language of paradise—the tongue Adam spoke when he named the creatures of the earth. Sophy must decide whether to live and paint in the world her husband has made or escape to save her child and herself.
Addressing the timeless issues of faith, art, and the elusive dream of perfection, Barbara Klein Moss has captured the fragility of human longing.
In an earlier story collection, Little Edens, Moss explored humans' pale imitations of paradise in their all-too-flawed lives. In her debut novel, she further delves into utopian ideals. Set in 1830s New England, Sophy, the free-spirited adopted daughter of a minister, begins a relationship with Gideon, who is studying theology and Hebrew with Sophy's father. But even (or especially) after their marriage, Gideon discovers that their daily realities fail to capture the Edenic rapture of their initial encounter, when he spotted Sophy dancing in a meadow. Gideon's real passion is reserved for his studies, particularly his quest for the original language uttered by Adam in the Garden of Eden. When Sophy becomes pregnant, Gideon, aided by the town's beguiling and shrewd new schoolmaster, hatches a plan to use the child to discover the language of paradise. The novel's world never collapses under the weight of the substantial research that informs it; it is vibrant and, especially in the second half, engrossing. Throughout, Moss's language is precise and controlled, effectively describing the inner lives of Gideon and, in particular, Sophy, whose initial childlike innocence makes way for something much stronger and harder earned.