"Eve: A Novel of the First Woman" (Delacorte Press, 421 pages, $24), by Elissa Elliott: Tossed from the Garden of Eden for a seemingly insignificant act — eating a piece of fruit — Eve is adrift.
What did it mean? Why was the punishment so harsh? And then, where is God? Does he still exist? Does he remember her?
Drawing on scholarly studies of Genesis, Judaism and Mesopotamia, and written in the easy-to-read style of "The Red Tent" and "Queenmaker," Elissa Elliott's first novel offers a fresh and insightful vision of the life of the first women.
For starters, Elliott questions whether Eve was in fact first. Two decades after their expulsion from the Garden, Adam and Eve encounter technologically advanced Mesopotamians.
This raises plenty of questions: Did God create these people as well? Did another god create them?
It also causes trouble as Eve's eldest children become enamored with the urban culture and its many gods. They pray to idols. They want to make sacrifices.
The outcome, of course, is no surprise: God favors second son Abel's sacrifice because it is made with a pure heart. Enraged, his brother Cain murders Abel.
The twists and surprises — which won't all be given away here — come in Elliott's imagining of the family dynamics that create an angry fuse for God's lightning to strike.
Cain is jealous of Abel, who escapes to the hills with his sheep and younger brother, Jacan. Eldest daughter Naava is vain. Second daughter Aya is self-righteous. Eve trades her third daughter, Dara, to the Mesopotamians. All seek Adam's attention and approval, but he is a distant father, too busy keeping the family sheltered and fed to worry much about their spirits. And Eve wallows in the past, mourning the tragedy of the Garden while failing to see the one building before her.
Like many of the best novels, "Eve" works on two levels. Elliott's plot is action-packed, but her story also raises spiritual questions about free will, creation and the human relationship with God.
Adam and Eve re-enact their relationship with God with their children, allowing them to make their own decisions, grieving the consequences and casting them out.
In doing so, Eve finds the answer she has been seeking: It was not that God stopped loving her but that she stopped recognizing his love.