Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millett

A Children's Bible
by Lydia Millett
Published May 2020 by Norton, W. W. and Company, Inc.
Pages: 240

Publisher's Summary:
An indelible novel of teenage alienation and adult complacency in an unraveling world. Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet’s sublime new novel—her first since the National Book Award long-listed Sweet Lamb of Heaven—follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion. 

Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group’s ringleaders—including Eve, who narrates the story—decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside. 

As the scenes of devastation begin to mimic events in the dog-eared picture Bible carried around by her beloved little brother, Eve devotes herself to keeping him safe from harm.

My Thoughts:
"From the wraparound porch, with its bamboo torches and hanging ferns and porch swings, moth-eaten armchairs and blue-light bug zappers, the barks of laughter carried. We heard them from the treehouses and tennis courts and from the field of beehives a slow neighbor woman tended in the daytime, muttering under the veil of her beekeeping hat. We heard them from behind the cracked panes of the dilapidated greenhouse or on the cool black water of the lake, where we floated in our underwear at midnight."
A group of liberal, educated, self-absorbed friends has rented a great house, built by a robber baron, for the summer, bringing along their children who they proceed to ignore for weeks. The adults sleep, drink heavily, do drugs, and have sex with others in the group. The children disdain them, refusing to acknowledge which of the parents are their own. The kids fear growing into their parents and accepting their values, such as they are. 

The tone of the book turns much darker when a massive hurricane almost turns the house into an island, knocks out power and drops a massive tree branch into the attic. It becomes almost immediately apparent to the children that their parents are not going to save them so they load into some of the cars with supplies and head out with the help of a caretaker. Their hope of reaching the home of one of the families is quickly dashed when it becomes clear the roads are impassable. The caretaker guides them to a farm he has worked on and there they establish a kind of sanctuary, aided by a three other adults who wander in off the Appalachian Trail. But in the aftermath of the now almost nonstop storms, and the continuing failure of society and the infrastructure, things become much more dangerous. 

Narrator Eve's younger brother, Jack, is given a copy of A Children's Bible by one of the mothers. As a boy who has never had any exposure to religion, Jack's reaction is to view the book as an allegory.
“God’s a code word,” he explains to his sister. “They say God but they mean nature. . . . And we believe in nature. There’s lots the same with Jesus and science,” he says. “For science to save us we have to believe in it. And same with Jesus.”

Millet's story is also an allegory, with many parallels to the Bible: birth in a barn, plague, a flood that covers the earth, Bethlehem, Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, a crucifixion, and angels.  Those allusions don't necessarily lead anywhere but they do serve to make readers understand that we are reading a modern telling of Revelations. The Bible allegory is Millet's tool for exploring climate change and also feels like the ultimate children versus parents. The children are rightly angry at the many ways the parents have failed them, particularly in ignoring what was happening to the world they were leaving for their children. It's a wake up call for those of us who think we are doing enough by recycling, not buying bottled water, and applauding solar energy. 

Source: checked out from my local library


  1. I know this book has been around for awhile but I had no idea what it was about. Sounds like something I could get into.

  2. I've been looking for some fiction on the environment and it looks like this one fits the bill. Great review.

    1. Just spent the weekend with my kiddos and this scenario is almost exactly what they believe climate failure will look like.