Early in Sarah Blake’s debut novel, the titular character, wife of Noah, smashes a pair of gerbils with a hard thwack of her spoon. The reader doesn’t yet know that there are spare gerbils—they brought extras of the “clean” animals, Naamah explains—so in this brief moment, she becomes an exterminator, an Old Testament God in her power and willful engagement with easy death. She is the one who determines which species will survive the interminable floodwaters—not Noah, not her sons or their wives, and not God.
But perhaps most alarming is that she cannot see the gerbil, nor any of the animals on the ark. She can hear them, smell them, but she has gone blind to them. “When someone dies and you forget how they look or how they laughed, that is how they forgot the land,” Naamah says. In the same way, she has forgotten how to see the animals to whom she is protector. And as she begins to take long swims in the sea—once a punishment and now an escape from the holding cell of the ark—she seems on the cusp of forgetting her former life altogether.
Beneath the surface of the water, there is an angel who seduces Naamah, inviting her to the depths where a ghastly world awaits. Soon her life on the surface becomes just as adrift, as she succumbs to dreams that seem endless, and she explores this dreamland and its mysteries with the help of a cockatoo named Jael. When the waters begin to recede, Naamah’s hallucinatory experiences continue, and the promise of firm ground seems to offer no assurance of stability to a woman so irretrievably, determinedly lost.
Revelatory, ethereal and transfixing, Naamah cracks open the ancient tale of Noah to reveal a danger that exists in supposedly safe places, the force of a woman charged with maintaining the world’s tremulous balance and the depth of our mind’s eye. Blake has previously published two poetry collections, and her language and storytelling style are as playful as they are sensual, as fluid and surreal as they are crisp and hyper-realistic.
In the tradition of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Naamah plucks a female character from myth and imbues her with sexuality, personality and intimacy, making her an altogether more modern hero—the kind of woman capable of giving a stern talking-to to a vengeful god.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Behind the Book feature from Sarah Blake on Naamah.