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WesternSFA


The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope
by Rhonda Riley
ECCO/Harper Collins; $15.99; 424pp
Published: April 2013

This is as peculiar book as I've read in a month of Sundays.

Beautifully written in a long, summer afternoon sort of way, I can't decide if it's the ultimate woman's romantic fulfillment novel, or maybe the ultimate science fiction romance novel?  It has this wonderful normal mainstream book cover, again, like a dreamy summer afternoon.

But it starts off with a bizarre bang and then moves smoothly along. Shortly after WWII, a young woman, Evelyn Roe finds what she believes to be a badly burned person in the shallow red clay of her North Carolina farm. It is raining cats and dogs and soggy little sheep and flooding is everywhere. Roused by the barking of her dog, she finds him, after he flexes his arm above the soil. Perplexed by the appearance of what she assumes is a soldier with bad burns half-buried, she drags the person out of the mud and takes him to her kitchen.

She is confused by the fact he appears to burned all over, his skin rippled and dimpled everywhere. His face is flat and strange and reminds her of a baby. Even his genitals are damaged. But her compassionate soul is certain this "hobo" was a soldier and somehow got to her farm. So, by golly, she's going to clean him up and give him a meal, and a bath and some of her deceased Uncle Lester's clothes.

He can barely speak and has no idea who he is or where he is from. Evelyn keeps trying to come up with a scenario where such an injured battered soul could come from and how he got to her farm. But she has no answers.

The ferocious weather keeps neighbors and family away as the person slowly recovers and unexpectedly the terrible burns begin to smooth out and hair begins to grow where it’s supposed to….but instead of a man, her new companion is a woman, a woman that has a lot of her traits, red hair, green eyes…they could be sisters. This confuses Evelyn of course.

But before she can unravel this mystery, the real world intrudes in the form of her neighbor and sometime boyfriend Cole who has come in the terrible weather to see how she is and has had a terrible fall, breaking his leg. Evelyn gets him into the house and when he sees her new companion he asks, "Addie Nell?"

And there is the answer to Evelyn's dilemma: who this stranger is. Addie Nell, a cousin who had run off years before and remained a mystery since then. And now, out of the storm, she's returned. Yes, the stranger is her cousin Addie Nell returned to the farm after all this time.

Evelyn goes out into the rain and saddles up her horse and makes it through the bad weather and slippery mud to Cole's house where she's able to get help. So, the stranger now has a name and a history of sorts and everyone around Evelyn and Evelyn herself is satisfied with her sudden appearance and her place in the world.

Evelyn and Addie live together for several years, as lovers. Addie is so in tune with Evelyn and so focused on her. It's a perfect arrangement. Two maiden cousins living together out on the farm and managing their chores. But living as a heart-bound couple in reality. The only thing is that disturbs this idyllic situation is Evelyn wishes she had children. But she only mentions this to Addie late at night.

But,wait:  there is more to this unusual story.

One day a handsome drifter comes by, a man down on his luck who is willing to do some chores for a few good home cooked meals. Evelyn is rather attracted to him, and Addie notices of course. But the drifter seeing there are two women on their own out on a lonely farm decides he wants some of that. Surprisingly, it is Addie that sleeps with him, Evelyn catches them in the living room where the drifter has been sleeping.

Appalled she runs silently back to their bedroom. Minutes later, Addie rejoins her and Evelyn confronts her with what she saw. Addie explains she wanted to see what sex with a man was like. "It's good, just different" she says. Evelyn is unhappy and falls into an uneasy sleep. The next morning, she wakes to find them both gone.

Furious, Evelyn smashes things throughout the house and in her anger she finds a note saying: " Back as soon as I can. 2 weeks? I love you---Addie." Evelyn is not happy. And her family feels Addie is just repeating what had happened before and no one is really surprised. Exactly, two weeks to the day, Addie returns…looking exactly like the drifter, Roy.

Addie has switched genders for Addie. This, of course, throws Evelyn for a loop. But eventually, she can tell, it is really Addie under the sinew and lankiness. She has taken on the drifter's looks because Evelyn had thought him handsome. Confused yet?

They have answers for all her family's questions: His name is Adam Roy Hope and he's from Kentucky. He's done farming and has a way with horses. The family accepts his/her explanation and things settle down into a routine.

No surprise, Adam and Evelyn get married and have five daughters. Everything changes though, when Adam is kicked by a horse in the chest and his helper takes the unconscious Adam to the hospital when Evelyn isn't home. Of course, some x-rays show some strange shadows in Adam's chest and in his brain. (this would be the late fifties now).

Both Adam and Evelyn know they have to leave North Carolina, because the doctors are all curious about the abnormalities. They manage to leave the farm without being followed and take the family to Florida where Evelyn has a cousin Pauline that her family has had little contact with. And there they settle, establishing their own stables and Adam's way with horses and raise their daughters.

Do we ever get an explanation of just who and what Adam is?

You'll have to read the book.

Beautiful and strange, I haven't read anything like this.  ~~ Sue Martin

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