Book Review: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

adam hopeThe Enchanted Life of Adam Hope was a book that I was inexplicably drawn to from the very moment I set eyes upon it. I almost purchased it in an airport bookstore after touching it, holding it, and reading the description of it. I suppose it felt a little mystical to me in some way. And true to that feeling, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is indeed mystical. It’s strange, it’s powerful, it holds just a little bit of magic between the pages. It was definitely very different from what I’ve read in quite some time.

Evelyn Roe is a young woman left to tend to her aunt’s large farm on her own, as her Aunt Ava has passed away, bereft at losing each of her sons to the war. One day, following a fierce and wicked tempest, Eve goes out to check her land and comes across a man completely buried in the mud on the farm’s property. He appears to be horribly burned, and is thoroughly unrecognizable.

“It was hard to look at his face and hard to look away. The whorled scarring covered him – his scalp, temples, face, eyelids and neck – as if his skin had recently been liquid, stirred by some cruel hand. His lips, though, were normal. Just thin. He had very small ears. All of his features were small and faint, his cheekbones wide, and his whole face flat the way some babies’ are. The way some Chinese and Japanese faces are.”

Eve brings him to the house and tends to his severe looking wounds. Over the course of days, very strange things happen to this horribly disfigured man. He begins to heal almost immediately, his face begins to take on new features, his skin smoothens. Inexplicably, he also begins to transform into Eve. The two women could be twins. But what is most shocking is that this person has transformed completely into a woman. Confused and helpless to understand or explain this, Eve works to craft a story for this woman who has so endeared herself now to Eve. To attempt to explain away the extreme similarities between them she first explains to her family that this woman, now named Addie, is a cousin on her father’s side (even though Eve and Addie take a very strong resemblance to her mother’s side). Eve and Addie also fall deeply in love. Eve has to keep this from her family and all those in the town. However, she is utterly and wholly in love with Addie.

Other things make Addie extremely unique. She has this very odd voice, she has a way of speaking to animals, almost like she’s a horse whisperer, she makes strange reverberations that fill Eve’s body when they are making love. Addie sings with exceptional beauty and also has this mystical sound that intoxicates and hypnotises. It is obvious to Eve that she is not all that can be considered normal. But she loves her, oh how she loves and adores Addie.

A few years later, it becomes very apparent to Addie that Eve is desperate for children and yearns for a traditional life with a husband and family. When a handsome stranger visits the farm, Eve is horribly hurt to find that Addie has gone away with this man and left her all alone. She is consumed with grief and anger too.

Weeks later, a man appears on Eve’s doorstep, looking eerily similar to the stranger that Addie left with. Yet, there is something familiar about this man too. Addie has gone off and spent time alone with this man and has once again transformed in to another person, this time a man. Confused and still mourning the loss of Addie, Eve takes her time with this new person in her life, Adam. Adam/Addie convinces Eve that this is the only way in which they can happily live in the best of both worlds – together, in love, but also able to lead a traditional life and raise a family together.

Over time, the love between Eve and Adam grows and blossoms and they welcome 5 girls in to their lives. These girls are all born rather ugly and ambiguous, just like their father in his early times with Eve. The reader will delight in their story. Here, the reader is treated to truly wonderful love story. A truly wonderful, very descriptive, tender, often heartbreaking, but all wonderful love story of Adam, Eve and their daughters. (Adam and Eve….hmmmm.)

I do have to admit at this point, that I almost didn’t finish the book. It was very strange for me in the beginning, and I struggled a bit to get involved in the story. It was just that it was so strange. Then, somewhere close to the halfway point it turned a dramatic corner for me and became a book that I just simply could not put down. At that turning point I was cruising through and just gobbling it all up. Heartbreaking sadness, joy, love and fantastic story telling. I was all in to the very last page.

A quote from Lauren Groff (author of Monsters of Templeton (great read!) and Arcadia) truly encompasses the feeling of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope,

“Strange and powerful… The most resonant love story I’ve read in a long time.”

Ms. Riley’s writing is very short and clipped most times:

“Downtown one Saturday, I saw a woman open a newspaper. The headline declared the liberation of death camps. The photograph showed guant, skeletal Jews. She studied the front page and crossed herself.”

But she also writes with exquisite beauty:

“Grief is a powerful river in flood. It cannot be argued or reasoned or wrestled down to an insignificant trickle. You must let it take you where it is going.”

Many times, I found myself reminded of the John Travolta movie, Phenomenon. There was just something mystical, heartwarming and engrossing about both The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, its inexplicable nature and the movie Phenomenon. I suppose you just have to trust me to say, stick with it and you’ll be treated to a wonderfully and beautifully written story. Bravo on your debut Ms. Riley!

For additional reviews, please check out this review by Giraffe Days here.
Another review from the Times Dispatch can be read here. 

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