The Preservationist - David Maine

I've heard it said from more than one source that the story of Noah and the ark really isn't a children's story. It's about God getting fed up with humanity and creation and coming just short of wiping everything out. It's about the entire population of earth (save a family of eight) drowning in a torrential downpour. So why is it such a popular tale with kids? Well, the animals, of course: what child wouldn't delight in a story about a big boat with a zoo on board? So we downplay the destruction and emphasize the boat and the animals and the rainbow and salvation.

But I have another theory as well. When it comes down to it, we really can't see how the story could have happened. Sure, maybe we believe that God could flood the earth and speak to Noah and give him instructions. But a six-hundred-year-old man and his family building a boat big enough to carry two of every species? Even assuming that there were fewer species at the time, that's still a whole lot of animals. And how did they get animals from far away? Did they only save animals from a tiny portion of the globe? We can appreciate the overarching story, but it seems more like a fable because we just don't see how all the details could have been worked out. So: we write it off as a bedtime story for kids.

David Maine has taken the skeleton account of Noah's ark and given it flesh. The tale is told from the perspectives of all eight "survivors": Noe, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives. (He spells the names as in the 1914 Douay Bible translation, which gives them a slightly less familiar tone.) Certainly he has taken some liberties—after all, we know little about the women in the story or their stories—but it works. When Noe remarks that God will provide, Maine shows us how, from getting enough wood to build a massive floating barn to the actual collecting of the animals.

I never did quite get used to Maine's choice of punctuation for dialogue (particularly after reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves): rather than using quotation marks, he starts dialogue with an em dash ... unless it's within a sentence, in which case he might not use anything at all.

—Lord, about this vessel.
Make it big, advised Yahweh.

But that may be my only complaint about the book. It's a beautiful story. Maine's imagining of the nitty-gritty details may not be historical or Biblical truth but it paints a great picture of how things might have been. And, while you should never judge a book by its cover, The Preservationist does have a lovely cover as well. In fact, I first heard about the book because of the cover: a woodcut illustration by Bill Sanderson shows the ark floating on waves, but when you remove the dust jacket, it reveals the ark sitting on dry land, with the animals emerging.

Noah's ark as fiction for adults: you'll never look at it the same way again.

Fed to jonathan's brain | January 15, 2005 | Comments (0)


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