Eden by Olympia Vernon

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A hypnotic, lyrical debut novel about a young black girl in the deep south who comes to confront the realities of sex, race, disease, and death, by a writer of extraordinary emotional depth.

“A profoundly raw and gripping read,” (The Baltimore Sun) Olympia Vernon’s fearless and wildly original debut novel explodes on the first page and sustains a tightrope intensity until the last. Set in Pyke County, Mississippi, Eden is a raw, heartbreaking, and enlightening novel that marks the emergence of a stunning and original talent. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Maddy Dangerfield, Eden opens in the moments after Maddy has impulsively drawn a naked woman on the pages of Genesis in bright red lipstick during Sunday service. The community is scandalized, and her devout, long-suffering mother’s response to her transgression is to force her to spend weekends nursing her dying Aunt Pip, an outcast who lives on the edge of town.

From then on, Maddy must negotiate her two worlds: at the house where she lives with her hard-working, Bible-reading mother, Faye, and her father, Chevrolet—a one-armed drunk, gambler and womanizer—she is both a reluctant participant in and astute observer of the strange and confounding dynamics of her sometimes violent, sometimes tender family. (Years before, Maddy’s grandmother—her mother’s mother—chopped of Chevrolet’s arm and fed it to the pigs after he and Pip were found together in the back room as Faye entertained friends from the church—and ever since, he has been am emasculated, desperate man—drinking and gambling his wife’s money away, leaving her to clean up his mess time and again.) And then out on Commitment Road, she is caretaker to her Aunt Pip, whose only friend is her eccentric neighbor, Fat. Maddy’s time with Pip and Fat opens her eyes to the exhilaration of speaking your own mind, living your life on your own terms and without apology, and also to the cost extracted by both. She learns that there are strengths that belong to women alone, and also that there is a kind of ravaging vulnerability that is terrifying and inescapable, and uniquely female.

The world Maddy inherits is one of injustice and hypocrisy, one that requires black people work for the whites for little to no pay; that sent her Uncle Sugar to jail for raping a white woman—no questions asked—when Maddy was just a baby; that preaches Christian love and forgiveness even as its actions reflect the very opposite. But Maddy soon learns that there is something that can work to oppose those truths, and that is knowledge; having the will and the ability to look beneath the surface, to question what others take as a given. By the end of the novel, newly acquainted with mortality and her own fierce strength, Maddy comes to bear both the burden and the blessing of that knowledge.

In lush, vivid brushstrokes, Olympia Vernon conjures a world that is both intoxicating and cruel, and illuminates the bittersweet transformation of the young girl who must bear the burden and blessing of its secrets too soon. Eden is a haunting, memorable novel propelled by the poetry and power of a voice that is complex, lyrical, and utterly true.

About Olympia Vernon

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Olympia Vernon is the author of the award-winning novels Eden and Logic. She grew up in a small town on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, the fourth of seven children. She has a degree in Criminal Justice, and an M.F.A. from LSU. She is currently the Hallie Brown Ford Chair at Willamette University.
Published December 1, 2007 by Grove Press. 272 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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While the denouement could go any way—how will Maddy be wrenched from her Edenic innocence?—Vernon uses Pip’s illness to steer Maddy into a final feminist baptism, in an over-the-top transcendent vision that ultimately strains the reader’s credulity.

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Publishers Weekly

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To teach Maddy about mortality (and to assuage her own conscience), Faye sends Maddy to Pip's home on weekends to help care for her as she succumbs to breast cancer.

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The New York Review of Books

Then enters one of the unique villains of literature: a lone wild boar, immensely cunning and unrelentingly vindictive, who proceeds day after day, night after night, to destroy their handiwork.

Mar 15 1984 | Read Full Review of Eden

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