In the waning months of World War II, young Evelyn Roe's life is transformed when she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier, all but completely buried in the heavy red-clay soil on her family's farm in North Carolina. When Evelyn rescues the stranger, it quickly becomes clear he is not a simple man. As innocent as a newborn, he recovers at an unnatural speed, and then begins to change—first into Evelyn's mirror image, and then into her complement, a man she comes to know as Adam...Evelyn and Adam fall in love, sharing a connection that reaches to the essence of Evelyn's being. But the small town where they live is not ready to accept the likes of Adam, and his unusual origin becomes the secret at the center of their seemingly normal marriage...Intensely moving and unforgettable, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope captures the beauty of the natural world, and explores the power of abiding love and otherness in all its guises. It illuminates the magic in ordinary life and makes us believe in the extraordinary.
This is one of the short list books for the Maine Readers Choice Awards. It's not normally one I'd read - particularly if I had known of the subject matter ahead of time. It had not been on my radar at all, and I was a bit nervous after reading the cover blurb. However, I had agreed to read all the books on the list, so I plunged in and was blown away. It's very very different, beautiful writing, gorgeous love story(ies) and has an exceptional out-of-the-box premise. Once I started, I was at first afraid to keep reading because I didn't want the magic to end, and I worried that Riley could not sustain the level of exquisiteness she started (but she did!). I was also afraid that whatever the ending was going to be, I wouldn't like it. (Surprise!)
Still..it took me a while to get my mind around the whole concept. The premise of this otherworldly person who develops into Adam was a difficult one for me, so I chose to read the book as an allegory of the original Adam and Eve in the garden story. About half-way into the story however, I just fell in love with the characters, the settings, and the story of love in all its forms. Magical realism isn't a genre in my comfort zone, but Riley's writing is so special it won me over. It is as lush and verdant as the Garden of Eden, and at the same time as straight-forward and unadorned as the North Carolina farm where the story begins.
This one is a worthy entry for the short list and will definitely be one that I look at when I have to choose the finalists. It would be a very interesting book discussion group choice.
Note: I also downloaded this one to listen to in audio. Because the story involves characters who communicate in strange unworldly ways with music and sounds, the producers could have tried to duplicate that experience in the audio format. I want to heap great praise on them for choosing not to try to replicate that and letting the reader use his/her imagination to "hear" those sounds. It would have changed this from a beautiful reading experience (either eyes or ears) to a dumb-down music/hollywood video soundtrack. Choosing to let the words speak the story without musical enhancement was a great tribute to the power of written words and the talent of the author.
Title: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope
Author: Rhonda Riley
Publisher (print): Ecco (2013), Paperback, 432 pages
Publisher (audio): HarperCollins Audio (2013) 16 hrs, 23 min
Narrator: Stina Nielson
Genre: literary fiction; fantasy
Subject: family relations,
Setting: rural North Carolina; Florida
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's on the short list for the Maine Readers Choice Award
Sincere thanks to Harper Publishers (ECCO) for providing the review copy.