Technology meets spirituality in this bold and satisfying YA novel
Imagine an engrossing tale that samples the angst of “Catcher in the Rye” and insight of “Ordinary People,” barrels toward “Johnny Mnemonic,” and then smoothly sails past “The Celestine Prophecy” toward a truly unexpected climax. Michael Sussman’s young-adult visionary fiction builds upon these themes to create a truly original novel of technical innovation, psychological insight, and spiritual growth. Sussman’s second novel is by no means perfect, but it delivers a fresh, fast-paced read that you ponder long after the last page.
Story: For one boy and his friends, the path to Paradise comes at a cost–one they may not be prepared to pay. When a biking accident leaves 17-year-old Joss Kazdan with the ability to hear things others can’t, reality as he knows it begins to unravel. A world of legends exists beyond the ordinary life he’s always known, and he is transported to the same Paradise he’s studying in World Mythology. But the strange gets even stranger when his new friends build a device that delivers people through the gates of the Garden of Eden. Now Samael, the Creator God, is furious. As Samael rains down his apocalyptic devastation on the ecstasy-seeking teens, Joss and his companions must find a way to appease Samael–or the world will be destroyed forever. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Sussman describes the Fall of Man as when human consciousness was cut off from the divine force, which is a pervasive theme throughout most world religions. Mankind no longer experienced a “primal organic unity, fully in the moment, unfiltered by language or logic.”
Joss experiences this Edenic consciousness after a head injury and for a time exists in a state of ecstasy, at one with everything around him. After living in a profound state of depression for two years, he is desperate to regain that unity. Technology enables him to reconnect by tuning into the (fictional, as far as I can tell) Shankman Frequency, which Sussman describes as the primordial vibration of the universe–the OM.
I learned much about the world’s religions and mythologies, particularly Gnostics, and Sussman adds a satisfying convergence of religious traditions that brightens the penultimate chapter. However, technology rather than self-discovery drives the characters’ spiritual growth.
My take: Sussman is a skilled writer. Crashing Eden offers rich characterization, nail-nibbling tension, and plenty of action for the metaphysical fiction audience. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to describe complex emotional issues such as depression and suicide in bald, unsentimental language that intensifies the power of those scenes. The tension builds as Joss and his friends journey beyond existential peril into mortal danger.
Sussman offers fascinating psychological insights, including parallels between the Gnostic Christian deity and an abusive parent. He delivers the requisite explication with great skill, employing a range of narrators from teachers to dogs, which makes the novel less “preachy” than comparable spiritual/metaphysical fiction.
I appreciated the characters’ ethnic diversity and how Sussman showcases the common themes that unite most world religions, including Christianity. However, the teens in this YA novel occasionally lapse into language more suited to Sussman’s clinical psychology practice. He draws comparisons to the 1966 Hugo Award winner Flowers for Algernon, which is an apt metaphor but one that may not resonate with contemporary teen readers.
Ultimately, the characters’ spiritual growth is driven by technology rather than self discovery, which makes the book less than ideal for me. Nonetheless, Sussman strikes a very satisfying balance between action, character, and theme in this fast-paced, enjoyable YA novel of vision and verve.
Crashing Eden, by Michael Sussman
Solstice Publishing, 2012
Paperback, 215 pages
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