Ackerman’s slender volume—more the size of a personal journal—packs a huge wallop. The full weight of the novel’s biggest questions—what does it mean to love someone, what does it mean to forgive, and what does it mean to be alive?—are carried by only three characters. Only one is alive and conscious.
Eden Malcom was flown home from Afghanistan, having barely survived an explosion from an I.E.D. Now, nearly three years later he lies, covered by severe burns, in a hospital with his wife Mary rarely leaving his bedside. He can’t move, he can’t speak—he is trapped deep inside his own mind, or what’s left of it.
If you think WAITING FOR EDEN is overly grim… you would be wrong The sadness is alleviated by the force of the characters, their love for one another (along with some intermittent humor), and the sheer power of the author’s vision.
The only person able to penetrate Eden’s mind is his best friend and fellow soldier—the the narrator of the story. He was caught in the same explosion as Eden but was killed instantly; nothing was left of him. It is from his vantage in a limbo-like afterlife that he conveys to us the story of Eden and Mary—an ingenious, at times funny, point-of-view.
The narrator moves back and forth in time. Using flashbacks, we go from the present hospital room to the past at Fort LeJuene, where Eden, Mary, and the narrator form a threesome while the men wait for redeployment. The word “threesome” is a giveaway—for a love triangle forms as the narrator develops a growing attraction to Mary.
Back in the present, the doctors say it is only a matter of time before Eden succumbs to his wounds, and family members urge Mary to stop the feeding tubes, drips, and respirator—to allow him to die. But she refuses, so the family eventually drifts away, leaving Mary on her own.
At some point, however, Eden gains a sort of consciousness. To tell more of the story would be to give away far too much. But let it be said that the issues raised and the characters involved pose basic human concerns, one of which is this—at what point is life worth fighting for? And who should determine the answer?
Ackerman’s prose is direct and unadorned, but its cumulative affect is a work of pure art. This is a compelling, magnificent novel.
Philip J. Adler
P.J. teaches high school AP English. After dusting off the blackboard chalk, he pens essays and reviews (and works on his desk-drawer novel). An avid reader and self-proclaimed nerd, P.J. leans to sci-fi but also enjoys nonfiction—science and technology, history and current events.