Lydia Millet, A Children's Bible: A Novel (New York: W.W. Norton, 2020), 224pp.
Lydia Millet's thirteenth novel isn't a Bible, but it's chock full of Biblical references and allusions. The narrator is a teenager named Eve, who's a ringleader of a group of twelve disaffected kids. Eve's nine-year-old brother Jack has an obsession with the Bible that includes drawing pictures of the Trinity. And on the last page of this dystopian story, Jack and Eve discuss what life will be like after the apocalypse of the book of Revelation.
This coming of age tale begins with a summer vacation in upstate New York, where the families of the twelve kids have gathered at a nineteenth-century mansion that was formerly owned by the robber barons. The affluent and pretentious parents, the "artsy and educated types," specialize in drinking, which was "their hobby, a form of worship," smoking pot, snorting coke and Ecstasy, casual sex and the occasional orgy, and simultaneously ignoring and smothering their kids. And big surprise, the kids disdain their parents as "a cautionary tale." Another surprise—in many ways the kids mimic their parents' behaviors.
In addition to this generational angst, an epic hurricane strikes. Massive floods turn the mansion into an island. Widespread panic, gas lines, empty stores, and vigilante violence are only part of the civilizational collapse that is clearly the result of climate change. I don't want to spoil the story, but suffice it to say that the band of twelve escapes, and experiences a half dozen plot twists, none of which I found compelling. For me the novel was an unhappy combination of The Hardy Boys and Lord of the Flies. But consider this: A Children's Bible was short-listed for a National Book Award and named one of the top ten books of 2020 by the NYT. Millet's story collection Love in Infant Monkeys (2009) was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist. And her novel Sweet Lamb of Heaven (2016) was long listed for a National Book Award.
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com