For the second novel in a row, David Maine is mining the book of Genesis for material. In The Preservationist, he retold the story of the Great Flood and its immediate aftermath from the point of view of Noah, his unnamed wife, his three squabbling sons, and their intriguing foreign brides. The novel's odd phrasing and antique mannerisms somehow placed it fully in a mysterious, legendary past, where God thunders inexplicable commands from heaven and leaves human beings to figure out what the heck He might mean. That same skill elevates Fallen, Maine's new novel, to Tower of Babel heights. With fidelity to the Biblical text, and without a hint of hubris, Maine challenges the silence of Genesis on the real reasons evil entered the world. As New Yorker critic Adam Gopnik noted in a discussion of soccer: "Did he fall, or was he pushed? It's the oldest question."
Fallen begins with Cain, Adam and Eve's first son, wandering the earth with his wife and children, simultaneously protected and cursed by God's mark. Flashing back to the reason for his exile, he vents his multifaceted annoyance with his little brother Abel. Aggravation might not seem the sturdiest motivation for the first murder, but Maine makes Cain's touchiness and Abel's reflexive moralism as real as road rage. Jumping around from familiar parts of the story—the botched sacrifice, the killing, "Am I my brother's keeper?"—to Maine's pitch-perfect reconstructions, the novel repeats The Preservationist's successful strategy of serial narrators. Abel recounts his efforts to reunite the family after Cain gets banished by Adam, Adam grudgingly explains the "abomination" that led him to reject his eldest son, and finally Eve goes all the way back to the garden and the snake that got human beings into the mess in the Beginning.
Maine's God won't be recognizable to denizens of Texas mega-churches or fans of Christian TV networks, but He's far truer to the fickle, opaque character in the Genesis narratives than the co-pilot God evangelists have made popular. In Fallen, He mostly stays out of reach—the author of humankind's fate who refuses to give interviews. People get all Maine's compassion, and rightly so. Exiles all, they figure it out as they go along, with no revelation to guide them; even hindsight is foggy. In a world where no one has ever grown old, baked a brick, birthed a child, or killed a man, every event is a wearisome labor of absolute originality.