At an old, slow, snail’s pace, I am reading xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, edited by Kate Bernheimer. Although I am tempted to say Bernheimer is a leader of the modern fairy tale and myth renaissance, I think this would be misleading, as fairy tales and myths resonate throughout our lives like wallpaper lining the rooms of all the stories we create and live through today. No renaissance is needed for something that never left us in the first place. Reading xo Orpheus is like reading myths with 3D glasses on, taking a fresh look at something already intimate and close. Like the best books, it gives me cultural pause and reminds me how often I forget the limits assumed within traditional storytelling.
No book of myths retold would be complete without maybe the most timeless and revisited of all myths, that of The Odyssey. Not only do several stories take on Odysseus, but one also gives voice to his dog, the faithful Argos. xo Orpheus‘s exploration of The Odyssey made me think of the other stellar reinterpretations of that myth:
- The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood. It may be a requirement, if you are a young woman alive today, to be in love with everything Margaret Atwood. One more reason for my devout membership to the church of Atwood is her beautiful parallel novel to The Odyssey, which gives Penelope her own voice. Penelope tells us of Odysseus’s drinking problem, his tendency to tell tall tales about his adventures, and her own limited opportunities in life (“And so I was handed over to Odysseus, like a package of meat. A package of meat in a wrapping of gold.”) Atwood’s version of the story reminds us how much of Penelope is left out of Homer’s tale.
- The Suitors, by Ben Ehrenreich. My expectations for The Suitors weren’t very high, but I fell in love with it right away. It reminded me of both Chris Adrian’s The Great Night and, oddly enough, Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books. Ehrenreich doesn’t spend time explaining logistics, instead he draws up ruthless and modern images of Odysseus (aptly renamed Payne) and Penelope (Penny) which make the story all the more relatable, stark, and scary. Ehrenreich is an uninhibited writer, and the book blasts passed its deeply meditative bits (“The wisdom of the streets holds here too: everybody’s got a hustle, even fog. And love’s a hustle like any other grift.”) not pausing for contemplation before Penny throws a tantrum or Payne wants to fight something. The power lies in the story’s inability to pause and question the insanity of the world Ehrenreich writes it into, part timeless utopia and part hipster wasteland.
Finally, The Boston Review posted a beautiful poem by Dan Chelotti on their website yesterday, “Odysseus Amongst the Swine Glances Towards Ithaca”, in celebration of April as National Poetry Month. Happy Reading!