The last book I read by Lydia Millet, Sweet Lamb of Heaven, was a sort-of thriller that never quite gave in to actually being a thriller (and was therefore not quite as good as it should have been). A Children’s Bible is similar is that it’s about an apocalypse but throws in a bunch of other stuff to make it seem more profound or something. Like Sweet Lamb of Heaven, it’s an engaging book but I don’t think it is quite as profound as it’s trying to be. Or, rather, the profound point it’s trying to make is enough without adding more to it. Or something.
Anyway, the book is about a group of families who’ve all rented a lake house together. The kids, mostly young teenagers, are left mostly to their own devices, so much so that they make a game out of trying to keep the others from knowing which parents go with which kids. They’re on their own, basically. For a while, they even go off on their own separate camping adventure.
All the while, Jack — the little brother of Eve, the book’s narrator — is reading a children’s book of Bible stories. And so he decides to start following Noah’s example and rescue a bunch of animals from what he assumes is immanent environmental collapse. When a storm hits the house and knocks out all power, Jack’s predictions seem justified. And more disaster ensures and the kids are even more on their own.
The whole thing seems to be about the failure of the current adult generation to properly take care of the next generation and the world they will inherit. In other words, we’ve left them on their own and will continue to do so. That’s what happens all through the book. It’s all exaggerated, but it’s very much the point. And, mostly, the kids figure things out, although they have to deal with some very serious tragedy as they do so. Still, the adventure tale is kind of fun to follow.
On top of the environmental parable are the biblical allusions. Most of these are obvious, like Noah and the ark. And sometimes they are pretty funny, as when a couple of people go to the top of the hill to get some ground rules from the owner of the place where they’re staying. And there are some interesting conversations, such where Jack tries to work out what the trinity is, without actually believing in God. This is where I think the book is trying to be really profound without really getting there. The theology that Jack develops is entirely earthbound, yet Millet has all these Bible-echoed events happening around them in a way that feels too coincidental to be real. Maybe the idea is that these kinds of things happen in the absence of God and we reach for God as a way of making meaning. And that is pretty interesting. But I felt like Millet pulled back from really examining the idea. Despite the title, the understanding of the Bible the children develop is rarely made central.
Or maybe my brain just can’t take subtlety these days.