Liana Finck’s invigoratingly reimagined Book of Genesis is by turns hilarious, tragic, poetic, mysterious, and always rapturously imaginative. Such is its lasting power that, after reading it, some may find it difficult to ever read the original in quite the same way again.
A popular New Yorker cartoonist whose previous books include the highly praised graphic memoir Passing for Human, Finck is one of our bravest and most idiosyncratic contemporary comics artists. Yet even devotees of her earlier work may find themselves startled by the level of enchantment she achieves here. Aside from an exuberant retelling of biblical myth, Let There Be Light is perhaps most profoundly an extended inquiry into the nature of creative process, artistic responsibility, and the sheer strangeness of existence.
Though biblical literacy is by no means a requisite, readers may wish to reacquaint themselves with Genesis to fully appreciate this deeply affecting journey, which is brimming with comic irreverence, disquieting melancholy, and resonant emotional truths. Let There Be Light unfolds with its own achingly beautiful logic, rendering a compelling feminist and mystical spin on the anxieties and raptures of the creative process.
Hovering above creation on a cloud, Finck’s full-bodied Goddess is much like her human creations: lonely, loving, self-doubting, and, at times, vengeful. Throughout, Finck has a great deal of subversive fun with gender, often in delightful, unexpected ways. It is hard to think of an artist who so brilliantly captured Eve’s thunderstruck epiphanic state after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, certainly not with such startling imagery and language. In another unsettling example of gender mischief, the notorious “begats” sequence, progeny comically erupt from men’s bodies, arresting images that cast an excruciatingly satirical judgment on the presumptions of biblical patriarchy.
Finck’s stories about the struggle to be guests and hosts on a strange planet are rendered in her spare pen-and-ink style, a deceptively simple approach that captures a sophisticated blend of emotional and spiritual states: vulnerability, otherness, regret, and fierce love. With deep dives into the human psyche, Finck’s artistry feels both rawly intimate and universal. When her severely disenchanted Goddess withdraws from the pages of her own Creation, we are almost viscerally unsettled by a pervasive sense of loss, but also stirred by the narrative’s resolute insistence on human agency.
There are simply too many spellbinding highlights to recount here, but Finck is perhaps at her most audacious when recasting Abra(ha)m as a struggling young artist in a modern world of distractions. With a visual style like no one else’s, Finck is never merely self-indulgent, so that even when Let There Be Light morphs into surrealism, as with the story of Joseph in Egypt, that shift only deepens the narrative’s profoundly poignant impact.
Constantly thought-provoking and entertaining, this strange and wonderful work deserves to reach a wide readership. A tour de force of feminist midrashic creativity, Let There Be Light is brimming with the kind of breathtakingly deep philosophical, psychological, and even mystical insights that rewards repeat readings. This is the kind of rare book that leaves one with the irresistible compulsion to approach strangers in bookstores and thrust it in their hands.
Ranen Omer-Sherman is the JHFE Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Louisville and editor of the forthcoming book Amos Oz: The Legacy of a Writer in Israel and Beyond.