‘Eden Springs’ by Laura Kasischke

‘Eden Springs’ by Laura Kasischke (2010)    –  144 pages

“Eden Springs” is a short novella about a fascinating little-known true American story.  It is the story of  “Father Benjamin” Purnell and his followers who operated the religious colony called the House of David in Benton Harbor, Michigan starting in 1903.  In Benton Harbor, their community prospered because being close to Lake Michigan, they planted orchards and vineyards and soon they were shipping fruit around the world.

The members of the House of David were told not to cut their hair, not to eat meat, and not to engage in sexual relations.   ‘Father Benjamin” himself was a handsome,  charming, charismatic man, and ladies would sometimes faint when he passed them.  In turn “Father Benjamin” displayed a great affection for his female followers. 

The House of David, unlike some religious communes, was not a grim place.  In 1908, they opened the Eden Springs amusement park which became a major tourist attraction of the Midwest with its zoo, aviary, miniature train, beer garden, and musical and vaudeville acts performed in the amphitheater.  Also the community was known for its great amateur softball teams.  There are many pictures of these softball teams, all members with long hair and full beards.

Soon groups of people, numbering into the thousands, from all over the United States, Canada, and as far away as Australia were coming to Benton Harbor to join the House of David.

About ten years ago, I read Laura Kasischke’s novel ‘Suspicious River’, and I was so impressed with that edgy novel, I’ve been on the lookout for more books by Laura Kasischke ever since.  ‘Suspicious River’ was later made into a movie as has another of Kasischke’s novels, ‘The Life Before my Eyes’.  Thus when I heard of this novella “Eden Springs”, I grabbed it quickly.

Laura Kasischke’s style is understated and powerful. Her sentences have a simple eerie quality that conveys more than what is actually on the page.  Her style is so flexible it can convey warmth and mystery at the same time.

“Eden Springs” is a quick read.  It is interspersed with pictures of the community, quotes from various people connected with the community, and, with its very short chapters, plenty of white space amongst its 144 pages.

There are a couple of unexpected surprising twists at the end of the story.  I can’t imagine how a movie producer could resist this story and not make a movie of it.  It has everything, picturesque scenery, a charming male lead, groups of young women dressed in white, a mysterious death, a surprise ending.   

The House of David religious community lasted all of the way into the 1970s.

I hope that the various literary awards committees this year realize that a novella with a lasting impact is at least as significant a literary event as  the many thicker books that will be published.  This is the best United States novella I’ve read, with the possible exceptions of one or two of Phillip Roth’s short books, since Cynthia Ozick’s “The Shawl”.

8 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds really interesting, Tony. I do like a good novella. But you are right, they rarely get recognised by awards, as if length is better


  2. Hi Whisperinggums,
    Yes, I do like a good novella. Your fellow Australian, Julia Leigh, wrote a great one called “The Hunter”, I believe. Maybe these awards should give out two awards, novellas (under 200 pages) and novels (200 pages and over).


  3. I think you have spent a lot of time to provide this high quality article to us. I do not know how to thank you.


  4. Thank You for your interest and good feedback!


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  7. […] also written eight collections of poetry.  My review of her novel ‘Eden Springs’ can be found here.   ‘The Raising’ was shortlisted for the French literary prize, the Prix Femina; Kasischke is […]


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