What am I reading? The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

Man, I love talking/writing about books. This was a particularly interesting read and I’m excited to tell you about it. I wandered by it on the New Releases shelf the last time I was at the library (because yes, I go to the library) and was immediately intrigued.

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Unlike my classmates, I enjoyed reading Beowulf in school. Sure, the language was annoying, but the story is interesting. I don’t think of Beowulf as the hero, despite the fact that it’s called a heroic poem. I find him to be arrogant, vain and shallow; not exactly someone I’d root for. The king is a dick. Later when Beowulf is king his bros abandon him, so that’s lame. Really all of the humans in this story are garbage. Sure Grendel is killing and eating people, but he’s doing it for survival and not for funsies, so doesn’t that make it more understandable? His mother goes on a rampage because her son was slain. Again, understandable. I’ve always wondered about their perspective on this story.

I was hoping this book would provide some of that perspective.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf.

From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings—high and gabled—and the community is entirely self-sustaining. Each house has its own fireplace, each fireplace is fitted with a container of lighter fluid, and outside—in lawns and on playgrounds—wildflowers seed themselves in neat rows. But for those who live surreptitiously along Herot Hall’s periphery, the subdivision is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights.

For Willa, the wife of Roger Herot (heir of Herot Hall), life moves at a charmingly slow pace. She flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. Meanwhile, in a cave in the mountains just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren, short for Grendel, as well as his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren, but when she returned from war, there he was. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.

I’m not even sure where to start with this book.

I read more than half of it the first night I brought it home without realizing it, so I guess it’s a pretty quick read. The author stayed surprisingly close to the source material so it’s easy to follow Beowulf’s story arc in this parallel story.

My problem with this book is with the writing; it’s not bad, but the author is a bit too longwinded. The result is a sort of surreal feeling narrative where I was never quite sure what was happening. It jumps from Willa’s perspective to Dana’s without any obvious logic. There’s a third perspective that isn’t clearly explained for the majority of the book. That sounds strange, I know; what I mean is that there are short chapters that are written from the first-person perspective, but the narrator isn’t identified. Not only that, but the narrator refers to themselves as we, not I. These chapters were relevant to what was happening in the story but didn’t do anything to advance the plot so they seemed pointless. Oh, and the chapters that are from the perspective of the old suburban women, Willa’s mother included, who travel in a pack and boss people around.

My other problem is with the characters. The main characters are obviously Willa, her son Dylan, Dana and her son Grendel. None of these characters are well developed and they feel very flat. Dana’s only motivation is keeping Gren safe, and it makes her sound like a broken record. Willa is a bored, shallow trophy wife who doesn’t particularly like her child or being a mother in general. Dylan and Gren are just little kids. There’s really not much to them. There are other characters of course, like Willa’s husband, their mothers, and the local hot detective/Beowulf, but they have even less dimension than the main characters.

I’m about 60% through this book and I don’t think I’m going to finish it. It’s weird, I’m not enjoying it and there are too many other good things to read to struggle through the rest of it. I seem to be the only person who doesn’t really like it; the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon are overwhelmingly positive, and it makes me wonder if I’m missing something, but I don’t care enough to keep reading.

So what have you all been reading? Suggestions welcome!

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