I’ve read the biblical story of the woman at the well, recorded in John 4, enough times for it to become familiar. Maybe too familiar. Which is why I appreciate what Stephanie Landsem has done with her debut novel The Well. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Well from Howard Books in exchange for my review.)
In it, we meet Mara, a teenager taking care of her crippled brother and despondant mother, in first-century Samaria. The mother, Nava, we will later discover is the biblical woman at the well who talks with Jesus and receives living water. That scene is uniquely imagined by the author and led me to look at the biblical passage in a new way.
And that’s only part of the story.
Nava is living sinfully in the village and Mara has almost no prospects of marriage. They struggle to find enough food to eat and they survive mainly on the charity of the other villagers, who equally despise Nava and feel sorry for her children. Then an outsider comes to the village, a man named Shem who has come to his grandfather’s olive farm to escape for a time while he’s hunted by Romans for killing a soldier. Shem has a soft spot for the weak and those treated unjustly. He finds himself unintentionally intertwined with Mara’s future.
When Jesus visits their village and speaks with Nava at the well, her life is changed and the course of Mara and Shem’s future is set in motion.
The ending, I think, will surprise you.
Landsem presents a believable picture of life in first-century Samaria, and the liberties she takes with familiar biblical accounts is refreshing. The Bible leaves a lot to our imaginations, and it’s fun when an author chooses to fill in the gaps. The plot is plausible and captivating.
The Well is Landsem’s first novel, but it won’t be her last. Look for more imaginative biblical stories from her in the future.
For more about the author, visit her at http://www.stephanielandsem.com/.