Review: The Mere Wife

The Mere Wife The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this poignant retelling of Beowulf through the eyes of women, Headley pulls off an incredible feat (heroic, one might say). She modernized the tale of Beowulf into the US in the decades following 9/11. The story follows Dana, a veteran who has returned home after captivity by the "enemy" and interrogation by her superiors. She's pregnant and has been abandoned by her country. She returns to her home town, Herot Hall which is next to a mountain filled with an abandoned station and tunnels. She takes up residence in the mountain where she raised her child, away from the humans who have given her nothing but grief. As she raises her son, Gren, she grapples with the locals increasingly looking towards ideas about the mountain and her son, increasingly wanting to explore the town. Besides Dana, the story primarily focuses on Dana, Willa, the Lady Macbeth-like wife of first, the heir apparent of Herot Hall, and then, to Ben Wolf, a police officer. The story also includes the two almost dueling chorus: one of the matriarchs of the town and the other, of the beings who have always existed in limbo. These different vantage points shed new light and new questions about how one discusses or looks at Beowulf itself while simultaneously being its own beautiful and haunting tale that stands on its own and will linger with readers who have never read Beowulf. While deeply engaged with the original text, Headley still provides great snapshots, commentary, and juxtapositions that will also push readers to think differently about the world we live in.

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