Christina Meldrum’s debut novel MADAPPLE (Alfred A. Knopf; May 2008; $16.99; Hardcover), is at once a literary novel and a psychological thriller. It draws the reader into a world where the natural and supernatural seem to converge—a world where reality seems a puzzle in which the pieces are organic, forever changing.
MADAPPLE is the story of Aslaug, a young woman raised in near isolation by her mother whose seeming disdain for the trappings of modern society shelter Aslaug from any sense of the real world. Aslaug’s childhood and adolescence involve lessons in botany, ancient religion, and language—all taught to her under her mother’s strict and censored instruction. While other young women are playing sports, building friendships and preparing for college, Aslaug is learning how to use uncultivated plants for everything from food to soap to narcotics—and perhaps even to poison. Yet, while Aslaug is by no means a typical sixteen year old, like most people her age, she is curious about her birth, relatives, her mother’s past, sex, the modern world—all questions she dares not ask her mother.
When the suspicious death of Aslaug’s mother results in Aslaug being a suspect, she suddenly is exposed to the real world—a place where her mother’s lessons become completely insignificant (even incriminating). Aslaug is alone and terrified, yet she realizes this may be her opportunity to discover the truth about the questions that plague her most—particularly the identity of her father.
In search for answers, a vague childhood memory leads Aslaug to her long-lost aunt and cousins. While living with them, she learns more about her mother’s past and her own past: she learns of her mother’s fascination with ancient stories of virgin births; and she begins to wonder whether her mother believed Aslaug herself was the product of divine intervention. Yet, the more pieces of the puzzle Aslaug assembles, the larger the puzzle seems—leading to more unanswerable questions and leaving Aslaug wondering if miracles do in fact happen.
Told alternately in terse trial transcripts and in the atmospheric voice of Aslaug, MADAPPLE is an intellectually provocative read that examines the darkest corners of the human soul—exploring human nature and divine intervention.