"I didn't mean to write a novel about Noah's wife," Rebecca Kanner said when asked about her motivation for writing Sinners and the Sea. "But just a few pages into what I thought would be a short story I realized I didn't want to stop. A 500-year-old man that everyone thinks is crazy, a host of vulgar sinners, a world on the verge of destruction... For me, this material was irresistible."
Noah's unnamed wife is a woman seeking personal fulfillment and struggling with the suspicions aroused by the birthmark on her forehead. Some think she bears the mark of God but most taunt and harass her because they fear she's been marked by the devil. Because of her mark her father didn't name her, but he arranges a marriage for his 24-year-old spinster daughter with 500-year-old Noah, who takes her to Sorum, where outcasts, pariahs, and prostitutes live. She gives him three sons, despite the fact that he talks more to God than to her.
Noah's wife gives us a new perspective on family life. Kanner uses a dramatic setting, a raging storm, hunger, passion, and the competitive urges that can develop between young men in a confined space to show us life on the ark. Most people are familiar with the Biblical story in which God tells Noah to build an ark and save his family so they can repopulate the world, but what about the untold story?
In this version, we get to meet the wives, see the brothers' fights and jealousy, and observe the healing strength that Noah's wife brings to her family. Kanner's skillfully developed women add a welcome perspective, especially the wise, patient mother. One of her daughters-in-law is beautiful, one is developmentally delayed, and one is a seven-year-old who is expected to live until she is 700.
How would three such girls change your family? In Kanner's skilled hands, they bring neediness, love, and some of the same tension that lures people to soap operas. But this book is much more beautifully written than a soap opera script. The voice of Noah's wife is both wise and honest.
Sinners and the Sea may make some readers wonder why we don't get more women's perspectives in the Bible and why none of the books there are written by women. It has the drama, tension, and heart that appear in epic movies. Maybe someday it will be one, but don't wait for the movie. Get a copy of Kanner's book and let her story stimulate your imagination. This is a story for the ages.
Rebecca Kanner holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award, a Loft Mentorship Award and a 2012/2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review. Her personal essay, "Safety," is a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011. Visit her website.
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