Image of Lilith
Release Date: 
March 19, 2024
Blackstone Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“Elisabeth’s rapid, aggressive, and dangerous actions do more than deal with one threat: They light a movement, in the name of the original Lilith, as well as in her own image.”

It’s impossible to separate Eric Rickstad’s thriller Lilith from American political news of this moment. Although Rickstad says he spent years creating the book, it echoes recent months with shocking resonance: a time when TV journalists recite running totals of mass shootings and victims, and a sitting president in February said there had been more mass shootings in 2024 than days of the year, while a presidential candidate threatens “bloodshed” if he’s not elected in November.

It's possible to look away—but for many news watchers, the aching issue of “What can I do about this?” persists. That's what Lilith lands in the middle of, but Elisabeth Ross carries more reasons than most people to press her into action: When a gunman enters the elementary school where she teaches, her young son Lydan, who’d wanted to stay home from school that day because he had a bad feeling about it, becomes one of the latest “gun violence victims.” After securing her classroom of kids in safety, Elisabeth saves her son’s life, but only just barely. She counts up the 17 hours of surgery on his body, and the damaged organs removed, and adds, “Who can know the damage to his soul and mind?”

Here, Rickstad deftly swings Elisabeth into the bigger questions, as she confirms, “I am beyond condolence. I am beyond the reach of my fellow human beings. Beyond God. Adrift in isolation, cracked wide open, flayed by grief and rage.”

Understandably, when TV interviews show her a popular gun defender, Max Akers, who’s spreading more violence with sleazy skill and determination, she finds a focus for that rage. Maybe her notion of borrowing a firearm from a relative and seeking revenge feels briefly ordinary. But she takes the idea into direct action, even though she argues with herself first: “I must forget about Akers, live my life with my son, raise him, nurture and comfort him. Turn off the TV and ignore it. What does Akers have to do with me?”

Elisabeth’s transformation into a person who takes direct and violent action in this situation is the basis for the novel’s title, as Lilith is a Biblical personage, a woman who “knew” Adam before Eve did and who fled him as she declared her independence. Elisabeth Ross will go beyond this, by declaring that Max Akers represents the evil side in terms of gun violence.

“Akers and his ilk’s fight, their war, is not about their right to bear arms. It’s about their perceived right to violence. . . . We women, and our children, must sit by and be quiet, must stand back and suffer it, must grin and bear it, over and over again and again, down through the ages, while these same men do nothing, because they like how things are.” She follows that thought and finds that men like Akers “shape the world through violence and conquest, pillaging and rape and genocide, oppression and control.”

That’s not a new idea. But Elisabeth’s sense of obligation to do something about it becomes a mirror to the violence she and Lydan experienced. Elisabeth’s rapid, aggressive, and dangerous actions do more than deal with one threat: They light a movement, in the name of the original Lilith, as well as in her own image.

Tense and rapidly moving scenes blossom in an FBI investigation that seems likely to focus on Elisabeth and separate her from her son in the worst of ways. While it’s taking place, she watches the results of the fire of rebellion she has lit among many women. To her confusion, it’s more than a movement—it’s a war. And, she admits, “What is war if not chaos and mass death?”

The questions and agony that Rickstad exposes as he rips off a bandage over the escalation of U.S. mass shootings, connect to relatively simple actions in the novel. The sneaky part about powerful fiction, though, is that the reader may experience an echo of what a skillful plot and relatable characters bring to life. If Lilith—the character in the Bible, the one in this book, and the book itself—can bring about a new narrative, what might the response “in real life” become?