It was just this past October that I went to hear author Laura Kasischke read from her novel In a Perfect World. Therefore, I can only assume that Ms. Kasischke was already hard at work on Eden Springs, her seductive new novella about the true-life House of David sect in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
“In the spring of 1903, a preacher named Benjamin Purnell and five followers arrived in Benton Harbor, Michigan. They were ‘following a star’ and fleeing a scandal. Within a few years, their message had spread across the world, and a thousand more followers of King Ben had joined those first five at his colony, which he named the House of David.”
Benjamin Purnell, otherwise known as King Ben, is the smooth-talking charismatic leader of Kasischke’s surreal novella. Armed with the deep religious conviction that God wants him to create a paradise here on Earth, Benjamin convinces people the world over to settle in his Eden. Leaving their homes and personal possessions behind, new believers made their way by carriage, boat, and train to the unlikely destination of Eden Springs in Benton Harbor.
As followers of King Ben they were going to live forever. “The body would not perish but be returned to the days of its youth, the skin made fresher than that of a child’s, the blood in their bodies transformed to spirit. When the end came, the House of David in Benton Harbor, Michigan, would be the only safe place on the face of the earth.” Thus, under these promises of preservation and salvation, Ben’s mighty flock came in droves to rest in the lush fields of Eden Springs.
Benjamin Purnell cut a fine figure in his tailored, crisp white suits. With his neatly brushed hair falling down his back, polished manicured nails, and charming bright-eyed demeanor, Ben thought himself Divine in every sense of the word. Men lured by Ben’s promises and good graces fully gave themselves and their families over to the tenets of this new church; including their wives and daughters.
But not all of the House of David women were on board with King Ben’s doctrine, and Kasischke does a great job casting shadows on the Eden-esque landscape of her tale. The twirling, billowing white skirts of young maidens running through lush, sun-flecked fields begin to take on an eerie, more sinister tone as the girls vie for Benjamin’s attentions. And after a young female body is discovered by a local grave-digger, we are left questioning the moves and motives of Ben and the many women in his life.
Eden Springs is a quick but fascinating work. This flexed, true-crime novel moves on Kasischke’s ethereal prose and showcases her ability to artfully mix genres without losing her audience. Fiction based on extraordinary fact, Eden Springs offers you up to the House of David while using true portrayals, pictures and clips to keep your feet firmly on the ground. Though the story resolves, it definitely begs for more on the incredible House of David estate and it’s mark on Michigan history.
Eden Springs is slated for release on March 15th. Proudly presented by Wayne State University Press, Eden Springs is part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series which highlights the works of Michigan’s diverse voices. Please see related links below for more intriguing information on the House of David.
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-Post by Megan Shaffer
-Book: House of David Baseball Team