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[276] Eden Springs – Laura Kasischke

” No one wanted to grow old. No one wanted to die. That was Benjamin’s religion. His vision. The youthful body, the joy of being in it. It had come to him in a flash one day, he said, like lightning when he was still a boy: There is no death, the lightning said. ” [46]

Eden Springs is an elliptical work, a historical fiction that draws on an investigation undertaken by the Detroit Free Press on a cult known as the House of David in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in the 1900s. The charismatic founder, Benjamin Purnell, who claimed to have been divinely inspired to gather a flock to await the end of the world, when he and his followers/colonists would gain immortality during the Second Coming.

Benjamin loved girls. To him, we were like fruit. To us, he was like God. He told us if we believed in him we would live forever—not just in spirit but in the flesh. When the end came, we’d have our young bodies back again, exactly as they were. [14]

Men from all over the world lured by Purnell’s promises and good graces fully gave themselves and their families over to the tenets of his new church. Holding promises of preservation and salvation over their heads, Purnell took liberty with all of his young female followers. What a gravedigger saw when the top of a coffin broke off led to an investigation of murder that eventually defragmented the cult.

In order to prepare their bodies for the Second Coming, members were told not to cut their hair, not to eat meat, not to engage in sexual relations. But accounts of the colony do not evoke a grim, chaste lifestyle. [Prologue, xii]

Eden Springs is an apocalytpic novel that is built like a scrapbook: photos, court testimony, legal documents, and news clippings intersperse the simple narrative. I was hoping the rebellious girls would reveal more details about the practices that contradicted to Purnell’s doctrine. Although the real-life accounts raise the interest about the cult, the book tends to spiral in on itself, circling its own tail (the end is infallibly predictable) and never gaining any momentum. It doesn’t intrigue me as I have expected it to make one’s heart skip a beat.

143 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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12 Responses

  1. So is it fiction? Or nonfiction?

    Sounds interesting. Cults have always intrigued/frightened me.

    • It’s historical fiction that is based on the cult in Benton Harbor in MI. I’m sure some readers would welcome the style, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

  2. The topic seemed to hold a lot of promise. Too bad the book didn’t end up living up to it! I’ve always been fascinated with cults and the people who get mixed up in them.

  3. Thanks for posting about this clunker….I’ll stay clear of this one for sure!

    • It’s part of a new writer series sponsored by the University of Michigan. I’m sure there’s merit to it but I just don’t get it.

  4. Sorry it didn’t work out for you. We all have those once in a while.

  5. I liked it better than you did, although I can see your point. My review is here on Rose City Reader.

    I like to list other reviews on mine. If you want me to add yours, please leave a comment on my review post with a link to yours and I will add it. I don’t like to link without asking first, but I have trouble remembering to check back.

  6. I haven’t read this, but I have read her other novel, Suspicious River, and thought it was quite good. It’s straight narrative, but she was (well, is) a poet, and I remember thinking the prose was quite good. I will have to dig it out and read it again.

  7. […] Least favorite book you read this year (so far?) Eden Springs by Laura […]

  8. […] shortest book you read in 2010: Eden Springs Laura Kasischke (143 […]

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