AN ARROW'S FLIGHT by Mark Merlis

AN ARROW'S FLIGHT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A second novel from the author of American Studies (1994) retells the legend of Neoptolemus and Philocetes as a tale of contemporary gay life. Merlis transforms Neoptolemus into an eager 21-year-old “hemidemigod” who goes by the name of Phyrrus in the unnamed city where he’s living when the story begins, its hero waiting tables and then drifting into the life of a hustler before ending up as a much sought-after stripper. Eventually, the young man is discovered by the eunuch who has been the family retainer for three generations and is encouraged to join Odysseus in one last assault on Troy: the oracles, it seems, have decreed that Troy can—t fall to the Greeks except with Achilles’ son at their head. What Phyrrus doesn’t yet know is that in order for the Greeks to win they also need the magic bow of Philoctetes. Once on the gay island resort of Lemnos, Phyrrus begins the work of seducing the older man into giving up his famed weapon, only to find himself unable to carry through on the betrayal. Inspired perhaps by Christopher Logue’s reimagined Homer, Merlis tells his story in modern dress, with bars and air-conditioning, battleships and airplanes, and, most tellingly, with Philoctetes— dreadful wound now a surprisingly effective AIDS metaphor. This is a strange book, at once ingeniously worked out (sometimes almost too ingeniously) and yet oddly rambling, cleverly written (to a fault), and a bit chilly (until its denouement). Merlis is caustic, ruminative, sardonic; at times his characters seem to be auditioning for a sophisticated off-Broadway revue. In its last fifty pages, though, the story builds to a genuinely moving climax. One of a kind, for sure, and more rewarding than not in its wit and thoughtfulness.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18675-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998




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