Jacob Bacharachs sec­ond nov­el sets the sto­ry of the bib­li­cal Patri­archs and their fam­i­lies in the rust-belt riv­er val­leys of west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. With the release of The Door­posts of Your House and on Your Gates this Tues­day, Jacob is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Sev­er­al months after my first nov­el came out, I made one of the braver deci­sions of my life and went with my moth­er to talk about it at her book club. That nov­el, The Bend of the World, was about aliens, con­spir­a­cies, drugs, cor­po­ra­tions, and the per­sis­tent inabil­i­ty of young men, even as they neared and entered their thir­ties, to grow up. It was — as its author remains — pret­ty deeply skep­ti­cal that there was even such a thing as grow­ing up. It was full of gay peo­ple call­ing each oth­er fag,” drunk­en ben­ders, and a real­ly sil­ly, irre­spon­si­ble amount of pro­fan­i­ty. It was, in oth­er words, an awful­ly weird book for your mother’s book club.

I’d know many of the women in the group since I was a boy. We’d moved to Union­town, Penn­syl­va­nia, a small town a lit­tle more than an hour’s dri­ve south­east of Pitts­burgh, when I was in sixth grade, and my par­ents still lived there at the time. To be back as an adult try­ing to pro­mote a nov­el in which fly­ing saucers may be real, fat drug deal­ers cavort in weird wood­land orgies, the best advice comes from a sasquatch, and at least one per­son com­mits, or appears to com­mit sui­cide, was eas­i­ly as sur­re­al as the actu­al con­tents of the sto­ry. Nev­er­the­less, most debut nov­el­ist — most nov­el­ists, peri­od — are nev­er reviewed in the Sun­day New York Times or inter­viewed on Fresh Air or sent on book tours or laud­ed with award sea­son praise. You des­per­ate­ly hope to move a few copies of the hard­cov­er, and if your mom’s friends mean ten or twelve sales, then you’d bet­ter show up at meet­ing and sing for your supper.

I don’t sus­pect that most of them made it all the way through, but it was more fun and less painful than I imag­ined. There is a cer­tain atti­tude shared by both the cool literati and the Very Seri­ous Writ­ers gang that ladies’ book clubs are a mid­dle­brow anachro­nism that only ever want to read his­tor­i­cal drams, fizzy divorce sto­ries, and biogra­phies of Eleanor Roo­sevelt, but it seems to me very close to mirac­u­lous that, regard­less of tastes, in a soci­ety in which even refrig­er­a­tors have screens and the last hotel I stayed in had a ghost­ly tele­vi­sion hid­den away behind the bath­room mir­ror, ready to bom­bard you with HBO while you shaved, there remain pop­u­lar groups of peo­ple who not only buy books and read books but gath­er every few weeks to talk seri­ous­ly about books. The women, even the ones who gave up on my book after the hun­dredth fuck,” were inter­est­ed, inquis­i­tive, and gen­er­ous in their ques­tions. They were a hun­dred times more engaged than any audi­ence of Eng­lish majors at any col­lege read­ing I ever gave.

The con­ver­sa­tion drift­ed around to the ques­tion of what, if any­thing, I was work­ing on next. I had just begun to sketch out a new project, what would even­tu­al­ly become my next and forth­com­ing nov­el, The Door­posts of Your House and on Your Gates. It didn’t yet have a title, but I knew vague­ly that it, like my first nov­el, would be set in West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, and I knew that it would some­how par­al­lel or ref­er­ence the Abra­ham nar­ra­tives in Genesis.

Among the women in the book club were a cou­ple of very devout Catholics and at least one devot­ed Evan­gel­i­cal. I, of course, am Jew­ish, though far, far away from any­thing any­one might call believ­ing. I sus­pect the sub­ject took them a lit­tle bit aback, and some­one asked me why this, in par­tic­u­lar, was of any inter­est to me. I thought about it, and then I said that I’d been reread­ing sto­ries from Tanakh — I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the very ancient ori­gins of the sto­ries in Gen­e­sis and Job — and that what struck me, what inter­est­ed me, was how thor­ough­ly we mis­re­mem­bered them, how the pop­u­lar recount­ing of the sto­ries of Cre­ation and the ante­dilu­vian world and the sto­ries of the Patri­archs had flat­tened them into coher­ent tales that sat­is­fied quite mod­ern ideas about the shape, tex­ture, and struc­ture of nar­ra­tives, but that how, when you returned to the orig­i­nal texts (well, the orig­i­nal texts in trans­la­tion; my Hebrew is, shall we say, less than spot­ty), what you found was an extra­or­di­nary strange­ness. The sto­ries are odd, dis­cur­sive, some­times high­ly poet­ic, often repet­i­tive, some­times rather sham­bol­ic. They self-con­tra­dict. There is no psy­chol­o­gy. You feel lost in their depths; con­tra­dic­to­ri­ly, you feel unable to break the sur­face. They are, in a word, fas­ci­nat­ing­ly alien.

Maybe I shouldn’t have used that par­tic­u­lar word, giv­en the lit­er­al top­ic of the book that I’d just writ­ten and they’d just read; I could see how it sound­ed, to a cer­tain ear, a lit­tle bit like an insult. But it struck me then, as it strikes me now, the clos­est word to express­ing the dis­tance between our­selves and some of our old­est sto­ries, and it seems impor­tant to be able to describe why their ali­en­ness is so addic­tive to me.

Jacob Bacharach is the author of the nov­els The Door­posts of Your House and on Your Gates and The Bend of the World. His writ­ing has appeared in the New Repub­lic, Ha’aretz, the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette, and many oth­ers. He lives in Pitts­burgh, PA.