In A Children’s Bible, Lydia Millet draws from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Revelation to tell a modern story about a world devastated by climate change. Appropriately enough, the narrator is Eve, whose affluent parents decide to spend the summer with several college friends. These families rent an isolated mansion, which brings Eve and her brother, Jack, together with 10 other children. The parents spend their time drinking alcohol and taking drugs. The children are left alone. So it is a pretty sweet vacation.
During one brief moment of sobriety, a parent gives Jack a children’s bible, which becomes his fifth favorite book to read while sitting on the toilet – just as any book by Bill O’Reilly is our fifth favorite bathroom book. Soon, a hurricane hits the area and there is massive flooding. The parents are catatonic and unhelpful. However, a small man, Burl, literally washes up on the premises and leads the children to relative safety on a nearby farm, where he provides the children with clean drinking water and a decent supply of food – think manna from heaven. It appears that Burl has saved the children, but then the men with guns show up.
It does not take a brilliant adjunct professor from Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology to point out all the biblical references, but we will do it anyway. There is flooding that even Noah, who is played here by Jack, would have difficulty handling. The parents worship false idols (drugs, money, and alcohol). Burl is a Moses-like character leading the 12 children (or 12 tribes of Israel) through a dismal landscape. There is even one section where a remote God-like character sends via Burl rules, which sound a lot like the Ten Commandments (however, the one about honoring your mother and father is conspicuously missing). Eve is Eve (duh). And there are angels, who appear as aging hippies, so they smell bad and sing corny songs. They also always seem on the verge of performing Godspell, which is obviously one of the signs of the Apocalypse.
The novel is fast-paced and gripping – at times humorous and then deadly serious. Eve is an engaging narrator. She has an unblinking eye and a razor tongue. Like most teenagers, she is repulsed by her parents and adults in general. “They had double asses – asses that stuck out, then sagged and bulged again. Protruding veins. Back fat like stacks of donuts. Red noses cratered by pores, black hair escaping from nostrils.” She is merciless like an ancient prophet. She also tells a really good story.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor