The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley (Ecco Books; 432 pages; $15.99).
“My husband was not one of us,” Evelyn Hope reluctantly reveals. “He remains, after decades, a mystery to me. Inexplicable. Yet, in many ways, and on most days, he was an ordinary man.” So begins Rhonda Riley’s unusual, unique, and nuanced debut, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope. Riley immediately arouses the curiosity of readers and also hooks them. For a few hours, nothing else matters.
Or that is how it was for me, at least. I still cannot get Adam and Evelyn Hope out of my head, and that is a testament to Riley’s epic love story. Riley fuses historical fiction with elements of mystery and the supernatural in The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope to create a story that crosses genres and beguiles until the very last page.
The tale is actually one big flashback. After years and years of keeping the truth close to her chest, an elderly Evelyn finally opens up about her husband. She can no longer keep silent after seeing a photo of her youngest daughter, Sarah, whose formerly Caucasian features have metamorphosed into Asian characteristics. Evelyn knows the photo has not been altered; Sarah is Adam’s daughter, after all.
This is Adam’s story (the novel was originally titled Adam Hope: A Geography), but it is also Evelyn’s, for she is “the one left to do the telling.” In her sage and sure voice, Evelyn attempts to explain the unexplained.
At 17, Evelyn is sent to work on her deceased aunt and uncle’s farm in North Carolina, where the soil consists of deep and hard red clay. In the days just after World War II, Evelyn labors from sun-up to sundown but senses a change coming, though she has no idea how profound the change will be or in what guise the transformation will take.
One rainy day, Evelyn comes upon a puddle, which she thinks is full of nothing but water and mud. She is beyond surprised to discover the body of a man there, a man who is very much alive, though strange and slightly misshapen. Mud and scars cover the man’s body. He must be a solider, she thinks, but far from the battlefield. After she takes the man inside and cares for him, miraculously, he heals. The kicker is that he also changes form. To Evelyn’s disbelief, the man grows to strongly resemble her; the two could be twins, in fact.
Evelyn does not question. To her, “Addie” is a gift. “To have her come up literally from the land I loved seemed natural, a fit to my heart’s logic. The land’s response to my love. So when fate gave me Addie, I let her be given.”
We know Addie is special, and she continues to astound us, especially when Evelyn decides she is ready for marriage and children. Addie changes form once again to become “Adam Hope.” Riley creates a character, unlike all others, who literally takes on the image of others. When Riley delves into the unknown, she takes us with her.
Riley also imagines a very tangible sense of fear. Instinctively, Evelyn knows there are those who would not understand Adam in the way she does. No one can know who or what Adam is or where he truly comes from. The situation has the potential to become volatile, and both Evelyn and Adam know this. Yet Adam counters: “Do you know who you are, Evelyn? Who all of you are? Where do you come from? You don’t know any more than I do.”
Clearly, Adam is from the land and of the land: he can be molded like clay. Riley uses this unconventional character to give us a geography of a body and of love, land, and family. Adam and Evelyn begin an idyllic life together; everything seems perfect and no one challenges who or what Adam is. He communes with horses, people, and nature in a way that is reminiscent of how Edgar Sawtelle communicates with dogs.
Adam Hope pulls you in like a magnet and entices you to stay a while. Before long, you are entranced by his beautiful music, his way with all creatures, and, above all, by Riley’s captivating and clear language.
Uncertainty, fear, and calamity soon mar the landscape of the couple’s happy home and force them to flee. I could not help but draw comparisons to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden. Yet, Adam and Evelyn get lucky and find a new kind of Eden and a new home, at least until tragedy strikes their family again.
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope explores the notion of the self versus the other; the familiar versus the strange; intimacy versus distance; and the known versus the unknown. Riley takes us to places we have never been before in her animated and charismatic debut perfect for fans of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
This novel was sold at auction, with several publishers placing bids to nab Riley’s story. It’s easy to understand why. The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is a beautifully and ingeniously told tale. Adam Hope is an understated yet formidable character, a man who is otherworldly but never alien, astonishing and ethereal but never inconceivable. Riley gently reminds us that unconditional love and acceptance matter more than difference.
Rhonda’s Tour Stops
Monday, April 22nd: Bookmagnet’s Blog
Tuesday, April 23rd: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, April 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Monday, April 29th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, May 6th: A Night’s Dream of Books
Tuesday, May 7th: Giraffe Days
Thursday, May 9th: Book Snob
Thursday, May 9th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, May 14th: Bibliophiliac
I am giving away a brand new copy of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope. Giveaway ends Friday, April 26, at 5 pm ET. I will use random.org to choose a winner. Good luck!