"Noe says, -I must build a boat.
-A boat, she says.
-A ship, more like. I'll need the boys to help, he adds as an afterthought.
-We're leagues from the sea, she says, or any river big enough to warrant a boat.
This conversation is making Noe impatient. -I've no need to explain myself to you.
-And when you're done, she says carefully, we'll be taking this ship to the sea somehow?
As usual, Noe's impatience fades quickly. -We'll not be going to the sea. The sea will be coming to us."
In this brilliant debut novel, Noah's family (or Noe as he's called here)-his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law-tell what it's like to live with a man touched by God, while struggling against events that cannot be controlled or explained. When Noe orders his sons to build an ark, he can't tell them where the wood will come from. When he sends his daughters-in-law out to gather animals, he can offer no directions, money, or protection. And once the rain starts, they all realize that the true test of their faith is just beginning. Because the family is trapped on the ark with thousands of animals-with no experience feeding or caring for them, and no idea of when the waters will recede. What emerges is a family caught in the midst of an extraordinary Biblical event, with all the tension, humanity-even humor-that implies.
Visitations from God are a mixed blessing for Noah and his family in Maine's spirited, imaginative debut. Noah (aka "Noe") may have pissed himself upon hearing God's instructions to build an arc, but he sets to the task without delay. He crosses the desert to buy lumber from giants; his eldest, Sem, fetches Cham, the son with shipbuilding skills; Sem's wife, Bera, and Cham's wife, Ilya, gather the animals; and Japheth, Noe's youngest, helps, too, in between goofing off and "rutting" with wife Mirn. And, of course, there's "the wife," 600-year-old Noe's once-teenage bride, who takes everything "Himself" (that's Noe, not God) dishes out with time-tested practicality. Wildly different in temperament, age and provenance, these characters, each telling part of the story, help create a brilliant kaleidoscopic analysis of the situation: the neighbors who ridicule Noe and clan; the inner doubts and shifting alliances; the varying feelings toward God, whose presence is always felt and sometimes resented. The flood comes as a relief from the wondering ("who is crazier: the crazy man or the people who put their faith in him?"), but hardship soon follows. Though the ending is already written, Maine enlivens every step toward it with small surprises. A story of faith and survival (think Life of Pi thousands of years earlier with a much larger cast of characters), this debut is a winner.