For a 500-year-old man, Noe—a/k/a Noah—is a randy old fellow. With a two-fist-sized “wagging cactus,” the stud of Yahweh “ruts” his teenage wife into having three sons, laying the foundation for humankind’s genealogical inheritance. The Old Testament telling of the Flood omits such intimate details and shrugs off the big hows in general: How did Noah gather pairs of animals from every species? How much solitude can one family bear in a freshly scrubbed and depopulated world?
First-time novelist David Maine, an American who lives in Pakistan, intrepidly imagines the details of ordinary life on the ark. Maine’s Yahweh is an indifferent taskmaster, infiltrating Noe’s head with his commands and growing irritated when called upon. The sons, Sem (the good boy), Cham (the rebel and primary boat-builder), and Japheth (the accident-prone rascal)—all good, strong characterizations—bring their wives into Noe’s divine scheme. Writing in a breezy present tense, Maine imagines how they spend their time: telling stories, feeding larvae to birds, getting bummed out, rutting. He writes of the ship’s interior: “From the darkness around them rises a dull effulgence of elephant dung, of rhino shit and wet hippo gas.” The wives bring a gently feminist slant to the tale. They set out to gather the animals, and Ilya, who hails from a matriarchal land in the north, argues for a god that is part male and part female, “a hermaphrodite, perhaps.”
While the characters are distinguished from one another by quirks and obsessions, their voices are not—a problem, as the chapters alternate points of view à la As I Lay Dying. Nonetheless, the existential loneliness that overcomes them once they leave the ark is palpable, more so when they must separate to populate the ends of the earth, leaving stones along their trail so they might someday find one another.