A work of fiction reimagines the biblical story of Samson and Delilah.
The familiar tale of Samson and Delilah is really a compendium of historically contradictory permutations, forever contested. Larew (Luther Was a Pheasant, 2015, etc.) experimentally explores a revisionist interpretation of his own, adopting the perspective of the Philistines; as a result, Samson is cast as a vile scoundrel and Delilah as a heroine in distress. Phicol of Askelon, Delilah’s older cousin and a military commander whose star is rising, narrates the story in the first person. While visiting Delilah, now living with her Uncle Zaggi in conquered Canaan lands, Phicol learns that she will wed Prince Ekosh, a marriage of extraordinary political significance. She becomes pregnant with his child and a prophecy predicts that the infant will one day become a great ruler. But Delilah loses her baby—possibly to foul play—and war rages on between the Philistines and insurgent Canaanite and Judean forces. Ekosh becomes king and Delilah queen, but he is assassinated by Samson, a rebel Canaanite. Later, Samson kidnaps Delilah and rapes her, and as a result she carries his child. Samson is apprehended—with the hair that is the magical source of his strength shorn—and tortured, but now Delilah must decide what to do with her unborn child, who bears the blood of her people’s sworn enemies but is protected by the goddess she secretly follows. Larew includes a useful discussion at the conclusion of the novel about the historical sources he draws upon and the ways in which he dramatically departs from them. He takes some liberties—for example, he decides to make Samson an alcoholic, which neatly accounts for some of his mercurial behavior. A retired history professor, the author displays a command of the period that is breathtaking, and he vividly brings alive the era with a sense of epochal authenticity. But the microscopic details of the political intrigue of the day are maddeningly labyrinthine, and the swarm of minutiae slows the plot down to a belabored crawl.
A historically brilliant revision of an ancient war tale, overstocked with inessential information.