I guess spoiler alerts for a story that originated around 700 BCE. Consider yourself duly warned.
Another of those Netgalley books I must request in a all.the.free.books.NOW! trance because it's a retelling of the story of Medea and I knew nothing about the initial telling of the story of Medea so how much did I really need to read a retelling of it? (Surprisingly though, from somewhere in the great media stew that is popular culture, I did know that Medea is known, in part, for killing her own sons. Now, where did I learn that? I doubt it was from forgotten nineties CBC melodrama The Odyssey, which had a character named Medea. Does anyone other than my mother and I remember that show? Can't drive past a field of corn without thinking about it.)
So we're thrown right in mid-story. Jason has stolen the golden fleece and is escaping with Medea, who has just killed her brother and is launching him, bit by bit, overboard (they're on a boat!) to slow down her father, who is pursuing them. There's a presumption that the reader knows the story of Medea and doesn't need to look this background information up or if they do, they have internet access and aren't, say, sitting in their car in the parking lot of the public pool waiting to pick their kid up from a birthday party.
But honestly, I got half-way through the book before I decided to look up the story of Medea (thank you wikipedia), which actually means that even thrown into Bright Air Black blind, there was enough there to keep me going. It's dense, sure, but intriguing to read, with an interesting take that many of the stories of Jason's Argonauts were enriched in the telling, i.e. fish story lies with only nuggets of truth as the base.
But for a book about Medea, from Medea's perspective, all that could be said is that she's angry. The prototypical angry female. Obviously, much of the anger is justified (like being made a slave by her uncle-in-law), but other times (like having sex with a corpse), I just don't get it. Take away that anger and it's hard to say something specifically about Medea. She's not a flesh-and-blood character as much as raw rage. Raw rage is forceful enough to move a story forward, but not as compelling as a character in-and-of itself.
Still, those are after-thoughts. While reading it, I kept at it, wanting to see how Vann would portray the next step of the story. So maybe I'm overthinking everything.
The ultimate bitches-be-crazy book, except, just like in real life when someone mansplains away a woman's anger as bitches-be-crazy, Medea justifiably has a lot to be pissed off about, in part because men in the book keep mansplaining to her and saying bitches-be-crazy in her direction.
Bright Air Black by David Vann went on sale March 7, 2017.
I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.