The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope
paperback, 424 pages
a copy of the book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
This is the central mystery at the heart of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope. Who are you, and where did you come from? Evelyn Roe is living alone, working the land in North Carolina, in the last months of World War II, when she finds something mystifying in the red clay of the land. At first she takes it for a man, possibly a returning soldier who has been wounded and scarred. To her absolute wonder, the man she finds in the clay eventually is transformed into a woman, a woman who is Evelyn's near-twin. Evelyn and the reader learn to know and love Addie, who has a remarkable ability to heal, to transform herself, and to communicate with animals. Riley blends creation myth with the techniques of realistic fiction to create a world in which all this seems possible, and then she has Addie disappear and reappear as a man named Adam Hope. Riley is like a painter who creates luminous, light-filled paintings by using layer after layer of paint and varnish....only Riley uses the textures, light, and colors of the real world to create a luminous, light-filled fictional world in which such creatures are possible.
What I loved about The Enchanted World of Adam Hope was the way that the story unfolded, like one long enchanted dream. The story of Evelyn and Adam, and of the five daughters they have together, is not as strange as it should be because of Riley's absolutely believable world, and the way she anchors her story in the literal earth and rocks and clay of her landscapes. Addie/Adam (Evelyn refers to the person who is both as simply "A.") is both otherworldly and entirely ordinary, but Evelyn and A. seem to exist alone in a world of startling beauty and emotion, unable to share the entire truth of A. with the larger world.
Addie, and then Adam, has a gift for working with horses, and that work becomes the practical basis of the life that Adam and Evelyn build together as a seemingly normal married couple, parents of five daughters, rooted in their rural North Carolina community. But a tragedy tears open their world, and something of the strangeness that lies within Adam seeps out. Evelyn and Adam continue to live in their community, but they exist apart, estranged, set aside from others. Eventually there is real danger, as Adam's difference is revealed to an even more threatening element, the medical community. The family flees to Florida, and begin their life again.
I was surprised at this turn of the book, because Evelyn's love of her land, her family, and even of the community that rejects her husband, were so firmly established in the narrative. The story takes a turn toward grief, loss, fear, and pain, that seems devastatingly permanent, and I read through a hundred pages while holding my breath.
Rhonda Riley made me care so much for her characters that I feared for them, grieved for them, hurt for them. It is a tremendous thing to love fictional characters that way.
Riley's prose is exquisite and delicate, yet tensile. Her prose is crafted right down to the sentence level, and yet it flows along as naturally as a clear mountain spring. As caught up as I was in pure story, every once in a while I had to stop to admire a sentence. I'd like to read The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope a second time, just to admire the prose.
Rhonda Riley gets right to the deepest questions of our lives: who are we? where do we come from? what is love? In this mysteriously powerful novel, Riley forces the reader to reexamine our assumptions about the borders and boundaries of love and otherness. If you like books that expand and catch you up in a beautiful, wonderful dream, you will love The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.