Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Mythsxo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths by Kate Bernheimer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of fairy tale and mythology retellings. I generally like to see different people's takes on these familiar tales, and how they might be affected by a modern mindset. So, when I saw this on NetGalley, I grabbed it for review. I was in no way compensated for reviewing this title, and the review copy is formatted to discourage duplication. I think I would be less disappointed if I'd paid money to read this. I wound up forcing myself to get through it so I could offer a fair review.

Of the fifty myths presented in this book, there are several repeats. Odysseus and aspects of his journey take up many of these tales, and Icharus shows up in more than a handful. The most amusing of these is a tale about an octopus who falls in love with the sun, which takes a turn for the surreal.

I know I'd be a lot more forgiving of the repetition if they hadn't been so tedious. With few exceptions, these tales are overwritten, overwrought, and they suck all the fun out of mythology. Some of them aren't stories at all, but long paragraphs about the meanings of mythology or pseudo-philosophical rambling. Many of them drop the reader into a potentially interesting world with no context, only to further confuse before the story is ended. There's little in the way of character development or insight. The authors do that thing I loathe, where characters act because it's what the story says they do.

I do understand that short stories have less room for back story, insight, or navel gazing, but the vast majority of these confounded me. Almost all of them are told in a dispassionate, detached way. The twelfth time I read a story with the exact same tone and literary devices, I started grinding my teeth.

There were a few standouts in the anthology. "Friend Robin" is an interesting way to bring brownies into a modern world, and "Lost Lake" manages to avoid many of the above pitfalls while telling an intriguing version of the Persephone myth. "Betrayal" was probably my favorite of the stories, for its modernization while preserving much of the tone and intent of myths and fairy tales. It's not a happy story, but it held my interest and wrapped up in a satisfying way.

Fifty stories are a lot to wade through to find three I liked, or four that didn't make me impatient to be finished. I cannot recommend buying this book. All I can recommend is skimming its contents to find the stories you might like, and saving yourself the slog through the rest.


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