xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths

17707758Author: Lots but editor: Kate Bernheimer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

thank you, penguin group!

xo Orpheus is a potpourri of different takes on myths. Some are ordinary life mishaps and happenings that draw parallel from old folktales; some are direct takes on the myths in contemporary life with all the weirdness and magic incorporated; still others are jumble of all things new and old, magic and not, wherein it seems the authors themselves get hopelessly lost while telling the stories. In some forest, on a chariot, burning the world or fallen angels, stealing godliness, forgotten pets and absentee fathers, a not-so-simple Irish stew.


Likewise, not all caught my eye. There were some that I didn’t try finish, I found them so unappealing and I do not life peas. Or cauliflower. Most of these myths, I did not know, like Galatea and Pygmalion, so I read these not with a view in mind to compare but simply as stories with no derivations. Which was probably not the point, and I must have missed out on a lot that I don’t know about for un-scholarly ignorance. The point is that, regardless the stories stood of themselves that I could enjoy them independently.

The first story, Anthropogenesis, Or: How to Make a Family by Laura van den Berg was a fantastic beginning, a better introduction to the anthology than the introduction itself. Utterly surreal and but making a point on the afflictions of starting a family, the evils of babies. It reminded me of a short story from The Kingdom of Little Wounds in which a mother gives all to her child, feeds herself to her fey baby, who makes blankets from her mother’s hair, and the moral is basically that that’s what being a parent is. These two stories bite.

Argos by Joy Williams is the story of a hound. Odysseus’s hound, whom her leaves behind. It’s a short, sad story from a dog with an enormous heart.

The Sisters by Sabina Murray is supposed to have suspense with a big reveal at the ending but for me, it was spoiled because of the original myth names that are given above each story. Moreover, it was simply boring, even for the mysterious girl gang, and the writing did not build up to the climax.

Sawdust by Edward Carey was probably the most surreal of the mix. And unlike Anthropogenesis, it didn’t stand as a metaphor or was trying to make a point. It was beautiful and lonely, also a touch terrifying towards the end.

Friend Robin by Malie Chapman is a simple story, like the Shoemaker and the Elves, except Robin is a tad temperamental. Not a mind-blowing story, more of a an account. I didn’t much care for this one.

The Veiled Prophet by David B. was a graphic story whose art didn’t have much impact on me, nor did the story which is about a caliph and a prophet, but I loved the ending.

Henry and Booboo by Elanor Dymutts is one gut-wrenching story because kids. They can be scary and regretful, and never the twain should meet lest this.

Modern Coyotes by Shane Jones was a creepy and surprising one. It’s derived from Coyote Myths, duh, but I think it’s making more of a point about how we think the danger always lurks outside.

Devourings by Aimee Bender, I had already read in her latest collection, The Color Master and loved. But it was better this time round because I knew the story and could love the writing without it. I especially liked the relation between the story and the Cronos which I only figured out, like this second.

Labyrinth by Ron Currie Jr., a Daedalus story, uneventful and forgettable, about sons and fathers and the whole loop that begins with one and doesn’t end with the other.

The Last Flight of Daedalus by Anthony Marra is quite different but more impressive than the aforementioned Daedalus retake. Icarus drowns but what happens next? Very lovely and the writing gives the feel of an inquiring crowd.

Daphne by Dawn Raffel was the story of a ‘nymph who turned down Apollo’s courtship’ afterwards. It was pretty awesome and sad and had exquisite writing.

Demeter by Maile Meloy is the urban retelling of Demeter’s sufferings, a mother who’s loses her daughter come every winter. It was simple, non-supernatural and sorrowful. There’s also another truth to this story, about this woman longing for her youth, not for vanity but love and joy.

Kid Collins by Willy Vlautin is a Demeter-Persephone story but from the perspective of neither. Instead, here we have a desperate, crying mother in a gritty background, and her brother. there’s no magic but an urban story of the broken.

Sleeping Beauty by Gina Oshner is one I can’t make up my mind about. There’s something about the setting and the weather and the staring that reminds me ofDaughter of Smoke and Bone but not in terms of writing, although this one isn’t too bad. I think I liked it but I just don’t know WHAT to make of it. I think I’d like to read more of hers.

Galaeta by Madeline Miller is the one of two stories where I cheered for the character. Sadly, it was not to be. Here, there be mothers and crazy men.

The Hand by Manuel Muñoz didn’t impress much; I liked the idea of it, not the product.

The Dummy by Benjamin Percy…hmmm… I actually thought it mught take the monsterotica course but it didn’t! It was very serious and stuff.

The Girl with the Talking Shadow by Kate Bernheimer that made little sense to me on read one, lesser on read two but beautiful nevertheless. It’s about madness and worldly troubles with things that don’t add up, but that was part of the surreality. I think I’d like to read more of hers, too.

Wait and See by Edith Pearlman– I waited and waited but never saw much. Interesting theme- pentachromaticity- but teh story left much to be desired. I like the mother, though.

An Occasional Icarus by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud– the first of the few that I didn’t finish.

Killcrop by Victor LaValle
HA! UBER-CREEPY/SCARY. The whole helplessness theme going on, a father helpless to save his son and family. This one actually played a cameo in my dream last night.

The Squid Who Fell in Love With the Sun by Ben Loory Monster-porn? because why the hell not? It seems I’m very poor at spotting monsterporn. I suck. It was more of an Icarus story to me than the Kraken’s, though. It was short and sweet and terrible and moving on…

Birdsong From the Radio by Elizabeth McCracken with more of mothers! Still awesome, they are, but not in the same sense.

The Lotus Eaters by Aurelie Sheehan is another one that I didn’t finish. I think Imma skip these ones, even my short-term impressions.

Slaves by Elizabeth Evans was about submissiveness and escapism. I loved the writing and atmosphere.

Narcisuss by Zachary Mason was another fantastic one that shone more than others, to me. I loved the new take, I loved the play on mirrors, I loved the obsession and I loved the sad ending.

Back to Blandon by Michael Jeffrey Lee
Another story about misunderstanding and growing apart. I liked it, nothing more to say.

The Story I Am Speaking to You Now by Davis Schneiderman
Robots preaching humanity. Or something. Didn’t work for me, but I did finish it. Next I shall finish learning karate-chopping. Hi-yah!

Dark Resort by Heidi Julavits was one I liked a lot. The turbulent atmosphere, the teasing omniscience and the retelling of the Orpheus myth.

Lost Lake by Peter Straub and Emma Straub is more of Demeter/Persephone but very different from the other two. It’s from the child’s perspective, and is more about the little distance/difference between light and dark, summer and winter; another theme playing is losing innocence, discovering things you wish you hadn’t. I loved the writing style, how it changes tone as the girl moves from mother to father, warm to cold.

What Want My Son by Kevin Wilson is a pretty, straightforward anecdote, more like, about a depressed teenager who burns the world. How do I not like that? It’s not great and I didn’t like the guy much but hey!

Thousand by Laird Hunt started out great but lost steam after the second page or something. It was not bad, per se, simply not attractive.

The Swan’s Wife by Aamer Hussein is a lovely story about two friends with a great cast and a great phrase from somewhere else:

Between you and me there is no kinship.

Sanna by Kathryn Davis, I don’t remember much about, which is weird considering I read it only yesterday and sorta liked it. Which I suppose says it all.

Sissy by Kit Reed had the second of the two characters I rooted for. Cruel father, whose cruelty doesn’t affect/torment the child so much as the mother’s disappointment. Fantastic story.

In a Structure Simulating an Owl by Ander Monson was definitely one of the most creative.

Betrayal by Sigrid Nunez was fun like none other, except perhaps Sissy. It’s very traditional in the telling with face-punch ending.

The Hungers of an Old Language by Brian W. Aldiss: I tried to read and got some ways when:

she had fulfilled a vital part of a woman’s destiny[childbirth]

I wasn’t liking the story much and that line pissed me off.

The White Horse by Sarah Blackman
Another story whose idea liked more than the execution. The author herself called it:

This seems a simple story. Why has it taken so long to tell?

Beats me.

So now, I am beat and have to prepare for a test. Terrific. Why did this review take so long?


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