WAKE, SIREN by Nina MacLaughlin
Kirkus Star


Ovid Resung
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Provocative reinterpretations of some very old stories.

MacLaughlin was a classics major before she began a career working with wood, so anyone who read her memoir, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter (2015), may remember the occasional quotation from Ovid. In this collection of stories, she finds her main subjects in the Roman poet’s Metamorphoses. MacLaughlin has set herself a considerable challenge. Ovid was writing about 2,000 years ago, and people have been translating and riffing on his poems—which were, themselves, based on well-known myths—ever since. Of course, the fact that artists continue to find inspiration in Daedalus and Icarus and Hercules and the Fall of Troy is testament to their power and mutability, but this means that MacLaughlin is inviting comparison to everyone from Homer to Walt Disney Studios. One way she sets herself apart is by focusing on female characters, many of them less well known to a contemporary audience. This choice creates its own challenge, though, in that so many of these stories are about rape. MacLaughlin succeeds in making these stories fresh and distinct by allowing her protagonists to speak in their own voices. This creates stylistic variety across stories, but it also makes a powerful point. In so many of these tales, a human woman or wood nymph or other female who attracts the attention of a lustful god or an angry goddess is turned into an inanimate object or dumb beast. She literally loses her voice. Indeed, even when these heroines can speak, the patriarchal culture in which they live robs their words of meaning. Io says “No” to Jove, but she finds that the language she knows no longer has any power. The sounds she makes are no more meaningful than the lowing of the white cow she will become. Some of these stories have distinctly modern touches—Galatea faints at a 7-Eleven because she’s been on a fasting cleanse—but these moments only reinforce a sense of timelessness. There have always been men who will not hear when women speak.

Vital, vivid, and angry.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-374-53858-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2019