Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung

Farrar. Nov. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9780374538583. pap. $16. F
In this modern feminist retelling of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, itself a Latin retelling of ancient Greek myths, MacLaughlin (Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter) relies on Allen Mandelbaum’s 1993 English translation for source material. If any canonical tales cry out to be told from a woman’s perspective, it is certainly these myths, many of which revolve around rape or attempted rape. Several seem to be set in modern times, with references to the minutiae of everyday life—bus stops, 7-11, cell phones, movies, yoga classes—yet the gods of Mt. Olympus are still themselves, in all their flawed glory. These flashes of modernity can be jarring, momentarily taking the reader out of the story, but the choice makes sense, as the myths are meant to represent eternal truths. We are reminded that human nature doesn’t change and that we tell the same stories over and over again in different settings with updated technologies, from the oral tradition to email exchanges. That these tales are still part of our cultural imagination speaks to their timelessness and enduring power.
VERDICT Though some of the stories feel overly experimental and some retellings work better than others, this reenvisioning of Ovid’s immortal work offers passages of unforgettable beauty and much strength in the voices of women trying to become themselves.
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