In an eye-opening departure from her previous fantasy yarns (Poison Fruit, 2014, etc.), Carey reimagines the back story of Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a tale of star-crossed lovers. Sort of.
Whereas the play’s action occupies but a single day—in many interpretations, an allegory of Shakespeare himself constructing a play, as the magus Prospero constructs his brave new world—Carey reconstitutes the events of the prior 12 years without contradicting or even straining the original text, a notable feat in itself. Shakespeare’s magical island has only three material inhabitants: Prospero, his young daughter, Miranda, and the strange, feral boy Caliban, the orphaned son of the witch Sycorax. Prospero, determined to civilize the seemingly intractably savage Caliban, captures and confines him. Desperately lonely, Miranda finds herself drawn to the boy despite his bestial appearance and soon detects a spark of intelligence within him. Under Miranda’s tender attentions, Caliban learns (or recovers) his powers of speech. As their friendship deepens, she learns from Caliban just how little her father has told her of her past or his plans for the future—plans that take no account of any personal wishes or desires she might have—and why he is so determined to render Caliban tractable. In Carey’s interpretation, Prospero, with his godlike abilities to reward and punish, remains an aloof, sometimes-cruel, and wholly unlovable character. But she transforms the largely passive Shakespearean Miranda into a dutiful yet dignified and ultimately tragic figure. And she challenges our perception of Caliban by presenting his attempted rape of the adolescent Miranda (alluded to but not dramatized in the play) as a sympathetic and at least semireciprocal act. Ultimately, he’s still a slave, but of love rather than brutish lust.
Intriguing and impressive while remaining inextricable from its dramatic context.