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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author Maria Dahvana Headley presents a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf, set in American suburbia as two mothers - a housewife and a battle-hardened veteran - fight to protect those they love in The Mere Wife.  

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.

©2018 Maria Dahvana Headley (P)2018 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"Susan Bennett masterfully narrates a stunning retelling of Beowulf that confronts all manner of monsters.... Powerful, upsetting, and unforgettable, Bennet's narration is staggeringly potent." (AudioFile)

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  • Tatiana
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • 07-21-18

Really not good

I didn't know it was possible, but this book was both depressing and boring at the same time. I don't mind depressing writing if there is a point to it, but this didn't have one. It just droned on and on in endless, nihilistic apathy and stream of consciousness gibberish that is never elucidated or clarified. Is it all just a metaphor? 30 minutes in, I still had no idea what was happening.

Take this direct quote from the near beginning, for example (it's not a spoiler). I transcribed it verbatim, although the punctuation interpretation is my own:

"She walks out of a stall without the use of legs, and says, 'Hey.' And I say 'hey' back to her like I'm not worried about my sanity. Her fingers are nothing but skeleton. She's smoking a cigarette. In the center of her chest there's an open wound, and through it I can see her ribs . . . her lungs. A candle, lit, balanced on her solar plexus, and surrounded by gilding. 'God get to you yet? God ask for any favors?' she asks."

So she has an open wound in her chest and a lit candle in her abdominal cavity? And before you say it is just a literary device, or a dream, I will say that there was nothing to indicate that. These things just happen throughout the normal course of the plot. None of the strangeness is ever clarified. It just stays weird and nonsensical throughout. Essentially, this isn't a novel, or a story, but some strange attempt at really long, macabre poetry.

Between these desperate attempts at literary genius through mindless insanity, I was able to gather that the characters think life is meaningless, nothing anyone does matters, and everything is just death, death death. Basically, we're all just wandering madly through the corridors of hell waiting for Cerberus or Ammut to eat our souls. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me feel like I need a strong drink. And I don't even drink.

The narrator did a great job of reinforcing this fatalistic impression in a terribly bleak and annoying way. She might have been alright in some other book, but just the fact that she read this makes me never want to listen to her again.

I have never wanted to return a book as much as this one. I have come across a lot of bad books in my day, but this is the absolute worst piece of utter nonsense I have ever read or heard. I cannot get rid of it fast enough. So, so bad.

11 of 19 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A remarkable accomplishment

Uneven, but a remarkable accomplishment nevertheless.A superb addition to the retold Beowulfs, joining John Gardner’s Grendel. Smart, moving, clever.

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Outstanding

A brilliant feminist critique of suburbia by a very talented writer. Beautifully written and richly layered. The narration brings the story and characters to life.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent!!

This modern day re-telling of Beauwulf was the bomb! I loved the interpretation of each character, the perspectives, the language was like poetry. The narration was spot on! An excellent read!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful