Eden is a fearless and wildly original debut, a powerhouse of a novel that explodes on the first page and sustains a tightrope intensity until the last. When fourteen-year-old Maddy Dangerfield draws a naked woman on the pages of Genesis in fire-engine-red lipstick during Sunday school, the rural black community of Pyke County, Mississippi, is scandalized. Her mother, mortified by the small-town gossip and determined to teach Maddy the perils of her youthful intelligence, forces her from then on to spend weekends caring for her estranged Aunt Pip, an outcast who lives on the wrong side of town and is dying of cancer. The lessons Maddy learns are ones that could not be taught in any church. Shuttling between the home she shares with her parents — endlessly locked in a cycle of resentment, violence, and only sporadic tenderness — and the house of tough, strong-minded Aunt Pip out on Commitment Road, Maddy feels her eyes gradually opening to the complicated dynamics that inform her world. As the once self-possessed, fiery Pip wastes away in body and spirit, Maddy is forced to confront the brutal finality of death and to contend with the ghosts that hover over
Pyke County — the violated body of Laurel Pillar, a young white girl raped in the field years before; Uncle Sugar, the black man said to have Laurel’s blood on his hands, in prison for life; Justice Bates, Sugar’s alleged accomplice, his broken body strung up and hanging from a tree; and the community of dead and dying women who have been ravaged by disease, in whom Maddy finds a terrible sort of comfort. In lush, vivid brush strokes, Olympia Vernon conjures a world that is both intoxicating and cruel, and illuminates the bittersweet transformation of the young girl who must bear the burden and blessing of its secrets too soon. Eden is a haunting, memorable novel propelled by the poetry and power of a voice that is complex, lyrical, and utterly true.