December 18, 2006

BOOKS: The Book of Samson, David Maine (2006)

Third in Maine's series of novels based on Biblical stories, following The Preservationist and Fallen (which I commented on here).

Maine has a terrific knack for giving his characters distinctive voices. Here's how The Book of Samson opens:
This is the story of my life and it's not a happy one. If you wish to read about me you're welcome to but if you're looking for something to give you hope & joy comfort & inspiration then you had best leave off here straightaway and go find something else. My life has an abundance of frustration and pain plus a fair bit of sex and lots of killing and broken bones but it's got precious little hope & joy comfort & inspiration.

It's got some women in it too plus a wife. Dalila is the one you may have heard of and a rare piece of work she was. You may think you know the story but believe me there's more.

It's an interesting question why anyone would seek hope & joy comfort & inspiration in a story in the first place. Something to think about. Maybe because there's precious little of it in life so we gather up as much as we can find and put it in our stories where we know where it is and it can't get out. But this story as I say isn't like that. It starts and ends with me here in chains and in between if anything it gets worse. Betrayal adultery and murder all figure in words writ large as if in fire against the nighttime sky. With the story not even done yet it might get more hopeless still before my days in this world are over.

In face I'm sure it will.

What I enjoy about Maine's novels is his ability to flesh out characters who, in their Biblical incarnations, are mere sketches, puppets with only enough personality on which to hang the bare-bones plot of their stories. What we know of Samson from the Bible isn't much more than "strongman betrayed when a hot chick cut his hair." Maine's Samson is a terrific character; he's none too bright, and well aware of it (especially when narrating the Dalila part of the story). He's also easily tempted to misuse his strength in ways that range from mere bullying to violence to murder.

("Dalila?" I hear you asking. "Isn't that 'Delilah'? Maine spells all of his place/person names as they appear in the Douay Bible.)

As always, Maine brings a dry sense of humor to his re-telling, managing to be funny and a bit irreverent without crossing the line into sacrilege. His story this time isn't quite as compelling (or as well known) as the Noah/Adam & Eve stories of his earlier books, but The Book of Samson is so marvelously written that it's still well worth your time.

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