ORRIE'S STORY by Thomas Berger


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Move over, Aeschylus (and Eugene O'Neill). America's foremost literary chameleon has decided to have another crack at the Oresteia. In Berger's coolly matter-of-fact updating, Augie Mencken (Agamemnon) returns home after WW II with a reputation for heroism in combat, a new romance with virginal Cassie (Cassandra)--whom he's left behind--and a determination to get a divorce from his wife Esther (Clytemnestra). But Esther and her longtime lover, Augie's scheming-sluggish brother E.G. (Aegisthus), plan to kill him in a bathtub accident--a sad botch, since they have to drown him when their original plan goes wrong, and their thirst for his G.I. insurance will be doomed by the fact that Augie has only pretended to join the service. Before they have time to discover this depressing news, they're both gunned down by Augie's (actually E.G.'s) introspective son Orrie (Orestes)--another botch, since Orrie was aiming for E.G., and killed Esther only when she threw herself between the two men. A cast that includes Orrie's sad sister Ellie (Electra), his well-heeled college friend Paul Leeds (Pylades), and a modern chorus of hangers-on at the Idle Hour Bar & Grill watches while attorney Anthony Pollo (Apollo) wins an acquittal--still another botch--in the courtroom of Judge Thea Palliser (Pallas Athena), leaving Orrie feeling guilty but, at story's end, ready to get on with his life. Unlike the Greek trilogy, which is about the way personal vengeance is gradually transmuted into institutional justice, Berger's enigmatic--and characteristic--treatment shows justice thwarted at every turn by ignorance and accident. If that point seems superficial compared to Aeschylus, this version still holds up against Mourning Becomes Electra.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown