Myths and fairy tales are crucial presences in Warner’s cultural histories (No Go the Bogeyman, 1999, etc.) and novels like Indigo (1992), The Lost Father (1989), and her newest: an ambitious, intermittently chaotic reshaping of the classical tale of Leto. Raped by Zeus, pregnant with the twins Apollo and Artemis, and pursued by Zeus’s vengeful consort Hera, Leto (a.k.a. Leda, among other incarnations) becomes the archetypal persecuted wanderer whose sufferings Warner portrays as the wronged woman assumes various subsequent identities identities: at the time of the Crusades, in Victorian England, then a fictionalized Balkan country (“Tirzah”) in the 1970s, unto the present day. Leto’s plight attracts the contrasting interests of mousy museum-curator Hortense Fernly (entrusted with the “bundle” of manuscripts and art objects discovered in what seemed to be Leto’s sarcophagus) and schoolteacher Kim McQuoy, a firebrand activist working on behalf of homeless people whenever he’s not paralyzed by his obsession with William Blake–inspired pop-rocker Gramercy Poule.
Warner doesn’t make this mishmash work (who could?—possibly a feminist Pynchon), but her Bundle is alive with quirky inventions, and it’s great fun watching her try and fail to pull it all together.