I spent six weeks in seminary studying the book of Genesis. While I am not claiming to be any sort of Old Testament scholar, I can humbly claim to recognize decent biblical fiction. Elissa Elliott's first book Eve: A Novel of the First Woman certainly fits my idea of decent biblical fiction. A fellow Minnesotan, Elliott captured the theological spirit of the first four chapters of Genesis, where Eve's story both started and ended. Elliott filled in between the lines of these four chapters with a rich story of Eve's life both in the Garden of Eden and outside of it after God expelled both her and Adam.
Elliott made a choice to tell Eve's story not only from her perspective but also from the perspective of her female children Aya, Dara, and Naava. She did this by dedicating chapters to each person. While this gives voice to those people that may have been excluded from the biblical pages, it also excludes the male voices of Adam, Cain, and Abel. While there is dialogue from the men, they do not have chapters to give their perspective. I wonder about the reasoning for this gender exclusion.
Another problem I have with the book is that it seems to give more voice to Eve's daughters than I feel is necessary. The chapters from Aya, Dara, and Naava focus on their interpretation and experiences growing up in this environment. Although I recognize the stories about Eve's children are indirectly about Eve herself, I lost interest quickly because I only wanted to read about Eve's life and feelings. The frequent asides about the female children really knocked the quality of the book down for me.
Despite my issues, Elliott's theological understanding of this part in Genesis was solid. The cunning and deception of the serpent in the Garden, the bitterness of being sent away by God, and the horror of having your beloved son murdered by your other son (the difficult one) were brilliantly brought to life.
Consider this comparison between the text in Genesis and Elliott's interpretation.
Genesis 4.8 (NAB)
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Elliott (told by Aya)
“I am sorry about the dates [the destruction of Cain's date trees],” says Abel. “I know how important they were to you.”
Cain's face rears up like the hood of a snake, like the face of Lucifer himself. It hovers and sways back and forth. His fingers stretch wide around the coconut, poised and ready.
I see Cain's face, the determination, the coldness, and my mouth opens to scream, to warn Abel of Cain's intentions, but when I do, nothing comes out, not even a squeak. My innards clamp up, and for a moment I cannot move, I cannot breathe.
Abel seems not to notice that Cain's purpose is to hurt him. He turns to go. Then, oddly enough, he thinks of something and turns back to Cain, saying, “I shall help you with the dates next-” But Cain is upon him, and even before Abel can cry out, Cain is striking him on the head with the coconut, over and over again. (373)
When done faithfully with the text, biblical fiction can drive home the theological teachings of scripture by adding some imagination and context to the words printed on the Bible's pages. Although Elliott's story is at times tedious, I believe it adds imagination and context that is often needed when one reads the Bible.