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The Mere Wife

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Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf. 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 Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf. 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.


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Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf. 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 Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf. 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.

30 review for The Mere Wife

  1. 5 out of 5

    karen

    a suburban retelling of Beowulf?? oh, this could be SO GOOD. please be so good.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    You don’t need to be a Tolkien-level expert in Old English to enjoy “The Mere Wife,” but it helps if you enjoyed Seamus Heaney’s glorious translation of “Beowulf” or endured that bizarre animated version written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, starring Angelina Jolie as the least convincing (and most naked) incarnation of Grendel’s mother. Headley borrows, twists and repurposes everything from her source text, sometimes riding parallel to the original and sometimes abandoning it altogether. The d You don’t need to be a Tolkien-level expert in Old English to enjoy “The Mere Wife,” but it helps if you enjoyed Seamus Heaney’s glorious translation of “Beowulf” or endured that bizarre animated version written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, starring Angelina Jolie as the least convincing (and most naked) incarnation of Grendel’s mother. Headley borrows, twists and repurposes everything from her source text, sometimes riding parallel to the original and sometimes abandoning it altogether. The dexterity of Headley’s wit is evident right there in her title, “The Mere Wife.” That’s a sly pun on the ancient and modern meanings of “mere,” denoting both “lake” and “insignificant.” But there’s more than one wife drowning in insignificance in this novel. From start to finish, this is a story about where women take refuge and how they wield power. Chapter by chapter, we hear about them in different voices: first person and third person, along with a chorus of older women that sounds closer to a Greek tragedy than an Anglo-Saxon poem. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert... To watch the Totally Hip Video Book Review of 'The Mere Wife,' click here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    I was promised Beowulf in the suburbs, and here's the problem: it isn't. Does Headley know that you can't just name a character Grendel and call it a day? If she'd billed it as loosely-related Beowulf slash fic, that'd be one thing - it would, seriously, it would be one thing - it would be this thing minus the pretentious parts. What Headley has done here is, she's gotten the plot wrong. Look, no, what do you know about the plot of Beowulf? Dude fights Grendel and then he has to fight Grendel's m I was promised Beowulf in the suburbs, and here's the problem: it isn't. Does Headley know that you can't just name a character Grendel and call it a day? If she'd billed it as loosely-related Beowulf slash fic, that'd be one thing - it would, seriously, it would be one thing - it would be this thing minus the pretentious parts. What Headley has done here is, she's gotten the plot wrong. Look, no, what do you know about the plot of Beowulf? Dude fights Grendel and then he has to fight Grendel's mom, right? That's the deal. Later he fights a dragon but nobody cares. The Beowulf author does some fun stuff with, like, who's really the bad guy here, and Headley picked up on that, but she didn't pick up on what actually happened at any point in the story so almost none of the important parts are particularly here. None of the unimportant parts are either, so don't go getting your dragon pants on. You know what else is, you have to decide whether you're writing a satire or not. You can't just, like, see how it goes. We end up in this horrific muddle where half the plot is a Real Housewives satire and the other half is some kind of earnest racial thing or whatever, and maybe the Furies show up? And all of it's written by someone who feels like she's really hoping to get an A- in her senior writing seminar, and it's just a fucking mess. I have examples, here's some bullshit Headley wrote: We are a white deer and we are a black raven and we are blood in the snow. We are a sword made of old metal and we are a gun filled with old bullets and we are a woman standing before her mother’s bones, holding her family treasure, broken. Oh man, it's so boring. Particularly toward the end, where the action thinks it's picking up but she starts banging on with malarkey like this for pages and pages, and you're like what is even happening here, like literally you're off on so much D&D poetry that I can't even tell who's getting stabbed with what dumb old sword. Listen, somebody goes and writes "Beowulf in the suburbs" on the cover and a lot of us are going to read it. That sounds great. It could be great! But it's not this book, which isn't even decent slash fic.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenia

    Listen. There's lots of ways I could start this review. I'm going to start it with, "The Mere Wife is a retelling of Beowulf in the suburbs," because this is easily one of the best books I've read this year and that's the best elevator pitch I can offer. The book centres on Dana Mills, an American marine who goes to fight overseas in the War on Terror. She gets captured, is executed on camera... and then wakes up 6 months later, pregnant. Scared of what might happen to her and her possibly-miracl Listen. There's lots of ways I could start this review. I'm going to start it with, "The Mere Wife is a retelling of Beowulf in the suburbs," because this is easily one of the best books I've read this year and that's the best elevator pitch I can offer. The book centres on Dana Mills, an American marine who goes to fight overseas in the War on Terror. She gets captured, is executed on camera... and then wakes up 6 months later, pregnant. Scared of what might happen to her and her possibly-miracle, possibly-monster baby, she flees back to her old home at the foot of an ancient mountain. But while Dana was overseas, her old neighbourhood was bulldozed and replaced with the high class, picket-fence-and-dinner-parties suburb Herot Hall. She settles in old tunnels within the mountain instead, content to raise her son, Gren, quietly within those confines. Gren, on the other hand, is not content. And thus Dana's world and the world of Herot Hall begin to collide. Lately I've stumbled across a few "feminist retellings" of older, male-centric works. I'm not sure if it's a current trend in SFF or if I just got lucky, but either way I am into it. I'm unfortunately far less familiar with Beowulf than I was with Circe's myths, but oh did it draw me in every bit as strongly. In the original (Wiki tells me), the warrior Beowulf slays the monster Grendel and then his mother — referred to only as 'Grendel's mother' — seeks revenge on Beowulf and is slain by him as well. In act 3, Bewoulf also kills a dragon. In this reinterpretation, the focus is on both "monster" and mother, offering a different reasoning for their actions and not necessarily the same fate. But the focus is equally on Willa, the seemingly perfect hostess of Herot Hall, and her young son Dylan. The Mere Wife is a book about parallels and opposites. For both women, their opposite is the invader, the "other". For both boys, their opposite is something to be curious about, to want to get to know. While Dana, with her fierceness and protective love, was my favourite, I equally enjoyed all the characters. All of them are flawed and the motivations of even the most flawed are understandable. (Yes, I promise Beowulf himself shows up eventually.) The book explores other themes too. The effects of war trauma. Gated communities and gentrification. Love across boundaries. A parent's desire to protect vs a child's desire to explore. The price of power for the "women behind the throne". A mother's terror when her son looks different enough to be targeted. At the core of each of these struggles remains the division between "one of us" and "the dangerous them", something that frankly feels very current and relevant today. The duality is also seen in the fantastical elements of the book. In terms of genre I think it's best put as "magical realism". You can take everything as presented — Gren is an inhuman monster; Dana came back to life; Act 3, like the original, features a dragon. You can equally take it as a soldier suffering from brutal PTSD. I'm still not sure which reading I prefer. Both, in parallel, I suppose. This uncertainty is further heightened by the absolutely gorgeous writing. Is it a metaphor or is it something fantastical? The book feels almost poetic, very fitting for a modernisation of an ancient saga. I particularly loved the interludes from the perspective of several "Greek choruses", from the spirits/natural inhabitants of the mountain to the pack of mothers/grandmothers of Herot Hall. The excellent audiobook version, narrated by Susan Bennett, also enhances the poetry-like prose. So. The next step for me will probably be to turn to the beautiful Beowulf that's currently collecting dust on my parent's shelf. The next step for you, I very much hope, will be to turn to the first chapter of The Mere Wife: The hall loomed golden towers antler-tipped; it was asking for burning, but that hadn't happened yet. You know how it is: Every castle wants invading, and every family has enemies born within it. Old grudges boil up. Listen. I especially recommend this book for: - Fans of mythological retellings - Magical realism fans - "Literary fantasy" fans - But ones who enjoy the occasional fast-paced action scenes amidst thematic exploration of the human condition. Look, this is based on a story that has three epic, badass battles after all. - People interested in female warriors, after the war - Fans of Madeline Miller's Circe - People interested in explorations of the "other" - English lit students who want to raise their hand in Beowulf 101 next Autumn and go, "Um excuse me professor, but "aglæcwif" can also mean "woman-warrior", not just "monstrous hell bride"; in fact I read this interesting book this summer about..."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Anders

    The Mere Wife is getting a ton of acclaim, and justly so. This retelling of the Beowulf legend focuses on two women: Grendel's mother Dana (a veteran of Middle East conflicts who came home mysteriously pregnant) and Willa Herot, the rich suburban woman who ends up marrying Beowulf. (In this version, Beowulf is called Ben Woolf). It's a story about women trying (mostly in vain) to protect their sons, and to deal with past traumas. But also, it's about displacement, because Willa Herot's fancy gat The Mere Wife is getting a ton of acclaim, and justly so. This retelling of the Beowulf legend focuses on two women: Grendel's mother Dana (a veteran of Middle East conflicts who came home mysteriously pregnant) and Willa Herot, the rich suburban woman who ends up marrying Beowulf. (In this version, Beowulf is called Ben Woolf). It's a story about women trying (mostly in vain) to protect their sons, and to deal with past traumas. But also, it's about displacement, because Willa Herot's fancy gated community has been built over the town that Dana grew up in, and the bones of Dana's long-buried ancestors are somewhere underneath Herot Hall. Also, the relationship between Dana's son Gren(del) and Willa's son Dylan is really beautiful and understated, and I loved all the stuff of these two boys finding each other when they're on opposite sides of this huge divide of class and history. Also, the "Greek Chorus" sections, where various suburban mothers and spirits of the mountain, and even a pack of police dogs, comment on the action, are just gorgeous and brilliant. Headley writes beautifully and almost every page had a passage that I found myself pausing to re-read. My only quibble is with the ending, because it felt as though some pieces were falling into place a bit too neatly, while other stuff was left unresolved for no particular reason. But overall, it's a gorgeous piece of work, and even if you aren't particularly steeped in the Beowulf story, you'll find a lot to admire in the story of these two women who are each trapped in their own illusions, unable to understand each other. Super recommended. Edited to add: I've had so many conversations about this book since I've read it, and I've kept thinking about it, and I was lucky enough to hear the author read from it recently. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those books that we're all going to be talking about for a long long time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Edward Lorn

    Headley weaves new cloth into the aged tapestry of BEOWULF, providing enough new material to remake the tale without ruining or so much as stressing the original seams. Everything fits perfectly. THE MERE WIFE is a master class of tailored prose, a stunning achieve that I cannot say anything ill toward. On track to be my book of the year.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Orey

    This made me want to read Beowulf, so that's something. The actual story is alright? It's actually a bit sparse, extended and dressed up with interesting and occasionally experimental prose. Some of that didn't land with me, but enough did that I appreciated how the text opened up larger questions around whether we can ever really be safe, what kinds of monsters we imagine in our contemporary world, and what and who gets buried in attempts to build new exclusive communities. I love the concept. B This made me want to read Beowulf, so that's something. The actual story is alright? It's actually a bit sparse, extended and dressed up with interesting and occasionally experimental prose. Some of that didn't land with me, but enough did that I appreciated how the text opened up larger questions around whether we can ever really be safe, what kinds of monsters we imagine in our contemporary world, and what and who gets buried in attempts to build new exclusive communities. I love the concept. Beowulf in the suburbs! The strong commentaries on the endless Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the horrible consequences of war for soldiers and veterans really say something about our heroic myths. Still, my favorite sections were the grumblings of tough suburban matriarchs holding everyone in check. But all the queer characters were killed right after they came out, so that was a real misstep. Not cool.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tamsien West (Babbling Books)

    This book is EXCELLENT. I don't really have words for how enthralled I was by it. The style and language were poetic, the story was really engaging and there were so many layers. A feminist, modern day retelling of Beowulf - apparently that is what was missing from my life. The moment I finished I wanted to go right back to the start and read it again. Instant favourite.

  9. 4 out of 5

    wanderer (Para)

    I have to admit I wasn’t too sure of the “suburban Beowulf” premise at first. But after a lot of praise and prodding by Jen of The Fantasy Inn (you were, as always, right – it was up my alley) I had to give it a try. I’m still not quite sure what I read, but I sure enjoyed it. Listen to me. Listen. In some countries, you kill a monster when it’s born. Other places, you kill it only when it kills someone else. Other places, you let it go, out into the forest or the sea, and it lives there forever I have to admit I wasn’t too sure of the “suburban Beowulf” premise at first. But after a lot of praise and prodding by Jen of The Fantasy Inn (you were, as always, right – it was up my alley) I had to give it a try. I’m still not quite sure what I read, but I sure enjoyed it. Listen to me. Listen. In some countries, you kill a monster when it’s born. Other places, you kill it only when it kills someone else. Other places, you let it go, out into the forest or the sea, and it lives there forever, calling for others of its kind. Listen to me, it cries. Maybe it’s just alone. I have to admit I have only passing familiarity with Beowulf. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story at all, but I am wondering about all the connections I may have missed and the gaps the review might have because of it. So keep that in mind. In essence, The Mere Wife follows the stories of two women and their sons: Dana, a former soldier who was supposed to be killed on camera but somehow survived and believes she gave birth to a monster, and Willa, a suburban wife seemingly living a perfect life in her gilded cage of a gated community. They’re both fiercely protective of their sons, wanting to keep them within confines of the world they live in, and see the other as the enemy, so when their sons meet and befriend each other, things get…messy. It’s beautifully written (just see the number of quotes I felt compelled to include!), but there’s nothing happy about their story. Those looking for neat resolutions should look elsewhere. Everything and everyone in it is deeply fucked up. Dana’s PTSD, Willa’s controlling mother, the very traditionalist gated community…it explores the themes of the other, us vs. them, gentrification, horrors of war, how one can live a seemingly perfect life and still be deeply unhappy, what does it mean to be a monster, the stories of those who are usually ignored. And it’s wonderful in that. There’s no sign of her gravestone now. I don’t know how they got permission to build mini-mansions on top of a graveyard, but I guess they did. The cemetery was almost two hundred years old. People never think, until it happens to their place, that all construction is destruction. The whole planet is paved in the dead, who are ignored so the living can dig their foundations. It’s also magical realism in the way that we don’t really know whether all the little odd things are real or delusions. And unlike in The Gray House , it’s entirely left up to the reader to decide. It adds an additional layer of ambiguity and messiness on top, but also a lot of potential for discussion of different interpretations. One of the most interesting things about it is the structure. In the beginning, we are introduced to the different translations of the Old English word hwæt. The chapters are grouped into sections named after them, and every chapter in each section starts with that word. Then there’s the matter of POV. There are first-person chapters written from Dana’s perspective, third-person chapters for Willa, “choir” chapters in plural from the perspective of wives or the mountain. And all of the above? It works. It’s ambitious, sure, but with execution to match, so don’t be dissuaded. If something’s happened once, we could all find love again. If something’s happened once, none of us are done for. None of us are the last of us. The story is all of the voices, not just the voice of the one who tells it at the end. Enjoyment: 4.5/5 Execution: 4.5/5 Recommended to: prose fans, those looking for experimental/literary books Not recommended to: anyone looking for a happy story, those who don’t want another book with the “bury the gays” trope (view spoiler)[even though in the end, everyone dies (hide spoiler)] More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    Both dream-like and razor sharp, this is technically a retelling of Beowulf but don't worry about remembering it from way back in high school. An avant garde Big Little Lies, looking at mothers and sons and the ways women build power and strength.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Alonso

    Maria Dahvana Headley has created a modern retelling of the epic Beowulf. Here, Headley uses the tale as the basis for a novel about privilege, class, rage, gentrification, whiteness, and the role of women. Of all of Headley's books, this, I think, is her most lyrical, sometimes begging to be read aloud, much like the epic would have been read aloud. Headley observes the role of women, particularly mothers, how pressure from others can change people in ways they never could have imagined. It pos Maria Dahvana Headley has created a modern retelling of the epic Beowulf. Here, Headley uses the tale as the basis for a novel about privilege, class, rage, gentrification, whiteness, and the role of women. Of all of Headley's books, this, I think, is her most lyrical, sometimes begging to be read aloud, much like the epic would have been read aloud. Headley observes the role of women, particularly mothers, how pressure from others can change people in ways they never could have imagined. It poses the notion--whether monsters are made or they're born, waiting to be seen by the world.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Dacus

    This book is incredible. Headley plays with the original text of Beowulf, bringing it a modern context. I particularly appreciate the examination of post-war trauma and classist conflict.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    THIS IS A PERFECT BOOK. Rest of the review pending. ---- It is October and this is still, easily, the best book I've read this year. It is thought-provoking, layered, delicious, and timely in 2018. If I could inject this book like an IV into everyone I would. I have had hours-long conversations with a dozen people about this book now, because it is dark and riveting. ----

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kaora

    This one sadly wasn't for me. It started out quite promising. The writing was quick and witty and really showcased the talents of the writer. So what happened? This is a story that is very loosely based on Grendel set in a similar time to now. It bounces around from perspective to perspective, from Grendel, to Grendel's friend, to Grendel's mother, to the mother of Grendel's friend. Even the dogs are narrating at one point. This isn't bad in itself but I found the collective 'We' narration of the This one sadly wasn't for me. It started out quite promising. The writing was quick and witty and really showcased the talents of the writer. So what happened? This is a story that is very loosely based on Grendel set in a similar time to now. It bounces around from perspective to perspective, from Grendel, to Grendel's friend, to Grendel's mother, to the mother of Grendel's friend. Even the dogs are narrating at one point. This isn't bad in itself but I found the collective 'We' narration of the grandmothers to be irritating and couldn't get behind it at all. The other thing that bothered me was the sheer selfishness of the characters. Especially Grendel's friend's mother who is convinced she should "get all she deserves". I don't want to spoil it too much, but I think she ruined the book for me. A seriously messed up woman, who had little to no explanation for being that way. This was just one example in a series of actions taken by characters that left me questioning. What is the point in that? Where is the motivation? Why?? I can see people liking this book and that is backed up by the fact that this book is rated over 4 stars, but for me the fast paced and clever writing wasn't enough. I need believable characters. Not necessarily like-able, but believable and this book was lacking in that.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sofia

    A story about monsters, those we create because we need them if there is to be an us and a them. But who are the monsters, who? There is no answer to that question and the book will give you no answer. To me this was a journey full of dread. Maybe my nature did not let me hope for the best so the dread took over. And for those who are wondering, no I have not read Beowulf so I cannot comment on similarities, differences etc.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    I've never liked the Beowulf story. It's all boiling over with testosterone and manly heroics, but Beowulf is a dubious hero at best. So the idea of taking this story, pulling it into the 21st century, and making it about motherhood, and the sources of women's power? It seemed a bit far-fetched. But it works. This is a powerful meditation on war, class, women's power and its sources. And motherhood. And relationships, and living for another person. Trying so hard to protect that person you don't I've never liked the Beowulf story. It's all boiling over with testosterone and manly heroics, but Beowulf is a dubious hero at best. So the idea of taking this story, pulling it into the 21st century, and making it about motherhood, and the sources of women's power? It seemed a bit far-fetched. But it works. This is a powerful meditation on war, class, women's power and its sources. And motherhood. And relationships, and living for another person. Trying so hard to protect that person you don't let them live. "Here's the truth of the world, here it is. You're never everything anyone else wants. In the end, it's going to be you, all alone, on a mountain, or you, all alone, in a hospital room. Love isn't enough, and you do it anyway. Love isn't enough, and it's still this thing that everyone wants. . . . He thinks I don't know what a liar looks like. I love him so much I don't care. Lie to me, I'm thinking now. tell me lies. Tell me you'll be safe. Tell me you won't risk your life hunting for love. . . The world is the world and my child wants it. The world is the world and my child will go into it, whether I like it or not. He doesn't have any magic. I don't have any either." My main criticism is with the final action sequence, which spans the final 10-11 chapters (they are short). Because of the time jumps and POV shifts, and the style of writing which is rather stream-of-consciousness, it's hard to follow exactly what's going on. I'd love to see this sequence shot, well, true to the text. It's meant to be cinematic but it doesn't quite get you there on a first reading. Read it again, 3 or 4 times. It's worth it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    “The women with their perfect faces, all cracking and showing what’s underneath, what’s always been there, course fur and gaping maws, whipping tails, scales, claws and hunger, and teeth, and teeth, and teeth.” Magical realism, epic fantasy, the real housewives of Herot Hall, a broken and betrayed soldier, all culminating in an ending so satisfying it grounds Beowulf to dirt. Headley has blown the dust off a tired old tale of machismo. Here everyone is a monster and everyone is a hero because “The women with their perfect faces, all cracking and showing what’s underneath, what’s always been there, course fur and gaping maws, whipping tails, scales, claws and hunger, and teeth, and teeth, and teeth.” Magical realism, epic fantasy, the real housewives of Herot Hall, a broken and betrayed soldier, all culminating in an ending so satisfying it grounds Beowulf to dirt. Headley has blown the dust off a tired old tale of machismo. Here everyone is a monster and everyone is a hero because everyone has a narrative. The claws unsheathe. The swords are drawn. All heroes win. All heroes loses. All heroes die. All monsters win. All monsters lose. All monsters die. *Audible note: part of my enjoyment was the narrator. Even at speed the emotion came through.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Very loosely based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley takes place in and around Herot Hall, a gated community in suburbia, replete with manicured lawns; regimented flower beds; and all manner of up-to-date security systems designed to keep outsiders off its pristine grounds. Herot Hall is an oasis where residents preside over a stream of never-ending dinner parties and children’s play-dates. Our attention is drawn to Willa Herot, mother of Dylan, and wi Very loosely based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley takes place in and around Herot Hall, a gated community in suburbia, replete with manicured lawns; regimented flower beds; and all manner of up-to-date security systems designed to keep outsiders off its pristine grounds. Herot Hall is an oasis where residents preside over a stream of never-ending dinner parties and children’s play-dates. Our attention is drawn to Willa Herot, mother of Dylan, and wife of Roger, the heir of Herot Hall. Willa leads a surreal existence, a life riddled with popping pills and alcoholism. She is surrounded by a bevy of older women with surgically enhanced body parts, immaculately coiffed hair, and scrupulously polished fingernails. They swoop in on Willa at regular intervals to ensure her home, family, and dinner parties are up to snuff. And then there is Dana Mills, a veteran of a desert war suffering from PTSD. Caught by her captors and somehow surviving a televised execution, she wakes up several months later to find herself pregnant. She returns to her home town and lives in hiding with her son, Gren. They live in tunnels and an abandoned train station buried deep within a mountain overlooking Herot Hall. Convinced Gren looks like a monster, Dana showers him with unconditional love and a fierce determination to protect him from outsiders who will target him because of his difference. Her warnings to stay away from the monsters in Herot Hall go unheeded when Gren’s curiosity gets the better of him. He ventures down the mountain and befriends Dylan Herot. Their friendship becomes the catalyst that leads to an inexorable collision course. Headley sets up a series of contrasts between Willa and Dana. Willa lives under a microscope in her brightly lit home with its large windows. She can rely on the support of power-wielding women to help her pick up the pieces every time her life falls apart. In contrast, Dana lives in darkness in the belly of a mountain with Gren as her only support and companion. Willa’s dinner parties with their sumptuous meals and tinkling glasses are described in vivid detail while Dana survives on whatever she can scrounge from the land and animals she can trap. In spite of their differences, the two women have in common a struggle to survive. They are isolated and trapped in different ways. In the gated community with its locks and bolts and social expectations, Willa strives to make meaning in a life she finds insignificant and a lifestyle peppered with lies and deceptions. Meanwhile, festering away in the entrails of a mountain, Dana struggles with flashbacks and hallucinations that color her perceptions of reality. This is an ambitious novel. In some ways, it is perhaps a little too ambitious. The point of view constantly shifts with a plethora of different voices, including Dana’s first person, the Greek chorus-like women of Herot commenting on events, the spirits inhabiting the mountain, third person limited omniscient, and others. The shifts are disconcerting. Add to the mix hallucinations and imaginary conversations with imaginary people, and it becomes a challenge to know who is saying what to whom, what is real and what is imagined. The last section of the novel, with its rapid pace toward a final crescendo, is confusing and baffling. In spite of these short comings, the novel is a compelling exploration of current concerns clothed in an ancient myth. It explores significant themes of race and class divisions; othering; “us” versus “them;” privilege; the lingering effects of war trauma; life-thwarting societal expectations; maternal love; the price we pay to survive; and the manner in which female power is exercised in a male-centered culture. It poses the following underlying questions: where are the monsters? Are they inside us or outside us? And who are the real monsters? Is it those who live in their pristine surroundings determined to sustain their way of life, no matter the cost? Or is it those “others” rejected by society and forced to inhabit its margins? The novel doesn’t provide answers but it does ask the right questions. Recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    lauren

    I was cool with this book at first. I like Beowulf and was engaged enough with seeing how she was re-imagining that story. But about halfway through,something really changed. It felt like she had a case of Monster energy drink and decided to just finish writing the last 150 pages in one caffeine-fueled frenzy that got more and more frantic as she consumed more Monster. She gave up on writing complete sentences and just spat it all out, remembering here and there that, oh, I didn't include a swim I was cool with this book at first. I like Beowulf and was engaged enough with seeing how she was re-imagining that story. But about halfway through,something really changed. It felt like she had a case of Monster energy drink and decided to just finish writing the last 150 pages in one caffeine-fueled frenzy that got more and more frantic as she consumed more Monster. She gave up on writing complete sentences and just spat it all out, remembering here and there that, oh, I didn't include a swimming competition yet so i'd better add one in! Maybe the point is we don't know who the good guys and the bad guys are, but she couldn't keep her characters straight. Gren is obviously Grendel, right, but now it's maybe Dana, and where did that bear come from?! Also, what was up with the greek chorus of mothers? This book was too all over the place for me, trying too hard in some places and not trying hard enough in others. I think this book could have been decent with a real heavy edit once she came down from her Monster energy high. I originally gave this book 1 star, because I really resented the slog through the end of the book. But I'd give the first half a 3, so let's call it 2 stars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    sylvie

    What an engaging read and such beautiful prose. I am not particularly familiar with the literary classic Beowulf, although I did look up a synopsis to get a general idea. This story takes us into modern days. The  protagonists Dana and her son Gren make their home in a cave, while Willa and her son Dylan inhabit the modern gated community Herot Hall. Other characters are Roger, husband  to Willa, father of Dylan. The story kept me engaged from the very beginning to the very end. As the story progre What an engaging read and such beautiful prose. I am not particularly familiar with the literary classic Beowulf, although I did look up a synopsis to get a general idea. This story takes us into modern days. The  protagonists Dana and her son Gren make their home in a cave, while Willa and her son Dylan inhabit the modern gated community Herot Hall. Other characters are Roger, husband  to Willa, father of Dylan. The story kept me engaged from the very beginning to the very end. As the story progresses, prejudice, hate, delusion takes hold of the characters. Reality becomes blurred, through preconceived ideas which lead to violence, murder. Who are the villains? Dana a former Marine? Willa the young housewife of Herot Hall? Any one of the many characters? I highly recommend THE MERE WIFE. It matters not that you are or not familiar with the classic literary work Beowulf,  This novel will take you on a wild ride... Thank you to NetGalley and FSG

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Brett

    I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this book a week or so ago, and having just finished it, I am left absolutely floored. Obviously I don't want to say much about it, since it won't be out for a few months yet, but it was amazing. It's a modern retelling of "Beowulf", but that description doesn't fully do the book justice. It's passionate, and deeply powerful, and brutal, and an expert chronicle of the things humans do to each other and to themselves. Maria Dahvana Headley, already a wonderful I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this book a week or so ago, and having just finished it, I am left absolutely floored. Obviously I don't want to say much about it, since it won't be out for a few months yet, but it was amazing. It's a modern retelling of "Beowulf", but that description doesn't fully do the book justice. It's passionate, and deeply powerful, and brutal, and an expert chronicle of the things humans do to each other and to themselves. Maria Dahvana Headley, already a wonderful writer, tells a beautiful story about the monsters we make in and of our lives.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    A fantastic riff on Beowulf, set on a mountain somewhere up the Hudson (or at least it seemed so to me) -- a look at the warriors of modernity, be they soldiers or police or the wives of powerful men. At times, the novel is ~very~ voicey and that takes a bit of work, especially at the outset, but Headley earns every single flourish by taking the oldest epic poem we have and turning it into a story that resonates immensely with our current moment. I loved this and I can't wait for her translation A fantastic riff on Beowulf, set on a mountain somewhere up the Hudson (or at least it seemed so to me) -- a look at the warriors of modernity, be they soldiers or police or the wives of powerful men. At times, the novel is ~very~ voicey and that takes a bit of work, especially at the outset, but Headley earns every single flourish by taking the oldest epic poem we have and turning it into a story that resonates immensely with our current moment. I loved this and I can't wait for her translation of Beowulf itself in a few years' time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Woods

    If this isn't a good representation of how much I loved this book. SO. MANY. GREAT. PARTS!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fran

    wowwwwww. (to be updated.)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    With a sharp eye and a deft flourish, Maria Dahvana Headley reimagines one of our oldest stories to give us a chilling, elemental vision of our latest selves. The Mere Wife is a bold, stunning riptide of a book. Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife The Mere Wife is an astonishing reinterpretation of Beowulf: Beowulf in suburbia — epic, operatic, and razor-sharp, a story not of a thick-thewed thegn, but of women at war, as wives and warriors, mothers and matriarchs. Their chosen weapons are as li With a sharp eye and a deft flourish, Maria Dahvana Headley reimagines one of our oldest stories to give us a chilling, elemental vision of our latest selves. The Mere Wife is a bold, stunning riptide of a book. Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife The Mere Wife is an astonishing reinterpretation of Beowulf: Beowulf in suburbia — epic, operatic, and razor-sharp, a story not of a thick-thewed thegn, but of women at war, as wives and warriors, mothers and matriarchs. Their chosen weapons are as likely to be swords as public relations and they wield both fearlessly. They rule, they fight. Nicola Griffith, author of Hild Maria Dahvana Headley writes — with crackling headlong sentences that range among old plots and news observations — about a world that earlier today seemed too familiar. Master storyteller, brilliant stylist, a writer with this sort of command of language is a delight to read. Here’s a book to call up an old story in the newest possible way. Samuel R Delany, author of Dhalgren and Dark Reflections The Mere Wife is a work of magic. A wild adventure, a celebration of monsters, myths, and the power of mother-love. Imagine a writer so bold, so ambitious, so about it that she challenges Beowulf to arm wrestle. That writer is Maria Dahvana Headley and let me tell you something, she is here to win. Victor Lavalle, author of The Changeling Maria Dahvana Headley translates the excesses of contemporary life into the gloriously mythic. This is not just an old story in new clothes: this is a consciousness-altering mindtrip of a book. Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble The most surprising novel I’ve read this year ... Headley is the most fearsome warrior here, lunging and pivoting between ancient and modern realms, skewering class prejudices, defending the helpless and venturing into the dark crevices of our shameful fears. Someday The Mere Wife may take its place alongside such feminist classics as The Wide Sargasso Sea because in its own wicked and wickedly funny way it’s just as insightful about how we make and kill our monsters. Washington Post Imagine the centaur-like hybrid of a Middle Ages warrior saga and a slow-burning drama of domestic ennui and you begin to get a sense of this spiky, arresting story. The Wall Street Journal Maria Dahvana Headley’s new novel, The Mere Wife, is much more than a simple recasting of the ancient epic poem Beowulf in the suburbs. It’s The Stepford Wives, 9/11 and English class thrown into a lyrical blender, and it’s kind of glorious. Associated Press [A] great, heart-wrenching read… I love a book that wrestles me, and makes me think about it after I’ve finished it. If you enjoy battling monsters, I can’t recommend this book enough. Tor.com Bestselling author Maria Dahvana Headley takes a significant gamble in recasting Old English epic Beowulf in the American suburbs – but the gamble pays off. She enhances the themes of the classic with contemporary and feminist accents, creating a work that is both unique and worthy. Christian-Science Monitor’s 10 Best Books of July Headley's language is exquisite and imaginative, the contemporary adaptation on-point and thought provoking – essentially, this is how to retell a classic. Refinery29’s The Best New Books Out This July The lives of two protective mothers in American suburbia collide in [this] fascinating contemporary retelling of Beowulf. Entertainment Weekly Headley (whose own translation [of Beowulf] comes out next year) brings the story of the hero, the monster, and the monster’s mother into contemporary times with uncommon vigor and depth. Boris Kachka, Vulture The Mere Wife [is] an intense, visceral reading experience … [the book is] a revisioning of Beowulf, and Maria finds the bones, the sharp edges, the bleeding heart of that story, and tells it against a modern context. Kat Howard, author of An Unkindness of Magicians Her dystopian novel, The Mere Wife, takes the Old-English epic Beowulf and plunges it into the suburban malaise of Donald Trump’s America. The Saturday Age The Mere Wife is a poetic, transcendental stunner of a novel! Maria Dahvana Headley’s electric storytelling weaves a dark exploration of how everyone has the potential to become or create monsters. A nuanced allegory for US politics, The Mere Wife reveals truths about our world through a dystopian suburbia in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale. Headley is a master storyteller with razor-sharp observations. Better Read Than Dead Bookshop [A] poetic, transcendental stunner of a novel! Maria Dahvana Headley’s electric storytelling weaves a dark exploration of how everyone has the potential to become or create monsters. A nuanced allegory for US politics, The Mere Wife reveals truths about our world through a dystopian suburbia … Headley is a master storyteller with razor-sharp observations … one of my favourite reads of 2018 so far. Mischa Parkee, Bookseller at Better Read Than Dead Best-selling American author/editor Maria Dahvana Headley spins the ancient story of monsters and dragons around a gated community populated by the beautiful and entitled … this is more than an old story in new clothes. North and South So: I loved The Mere Wife and I bet lots of other people will too … Everyone should read The Mere Wife. It’s a wonderfully unexpected dark/funny/lyrical/angry retelling of Beowulf; what's not to like? Emily Wilson, translator of The Odyssey Fan-fucking-tastic … this book! Oh, this book! It’s brutal and beautiful and unflinching. Justina Ireland, author of Feral Youth Headley's jabs at suburban smugness are fun … [and her] prose can be stark, lacerating, insightful … The role reversals Headley devises — and the way she adapts an ancient tale into a 21st-century struggle between haves and have-nots, brown-skinned and white, damaged and intact — are largely effective.’ Michael Upchurch, The New York Times Book Review A sly satire of suburbia, wittily detailed and narratively bold … with its roots in ancient legend The Mere Wife] proves especially relevant in this time of heightened fear of the Other. Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle Headley's divergences and additions, descriptions of glittering scenery and bloody battles, keep us entranced as those who once gathered round the fire to hear of heroic deeds and shudder at the monsters among us. Kathleen Alcala, The Cascadia Subduction Zone [The Mere Wife] is the story of the fierceness of a mother's love, delivered with a full-throated feminist roar, a highly literary sensibility, and characters who straddle the line between reality and fantasy … It rings with musicality … [Headley's] prose takes no prisoners, and her musings on myth and magic and feminism hit like a welcome punch to the face. Read The Mere Wife, and look forward to her forthcoming translation of Beowulf, which will further shift our understanding of what makes a monster, a hero, a woman. Ardi Alspach, B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog The Mere Wife shows war from a mother’s perspective; the tragedy of all-encompassing love in a world that inevitably destroys … By centring on the mother’s perspective, Headley tells one of Western literature’s classic tales differently and proves that feminist revisionist writing is essential reading in a changing world. Weekend Australian A rich, full narrative. Good Reading Headley’s heroic prose and vivid imagery offers thought-provoking correlations between ancient themes and recent historical events. Its emphasis on feminist power gives an old tale renewed significance. Reba Leiding, Library Journal The Mere Wife is a boldly conceived work that can stand proudly on the bookshelf next to its inspiration. Paul Di Filippo, Barnes and Noble Review The Mere Wife goes beyond Beowulf to become a narrative that offers a bold look at American suburbia while exploring the power of women in society. Gabino Iglesias, The Rumpus Vivid and thrilling. Daily Telegraph Her language is vivid and compelling … If you are a fan of dark fantasy and suspense, then you will love this book. Lynda Stallworthy, Daily Post I loved Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife, a memorably weird and deep retelling of Beowulf as a novel about suburban America, wildness, PTSD and what it means to be a hero. Emily Wilson, New Statesman [A] muscular, bloodthirsty novel. Sarah Ditum, The Guardian

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    The "mere" in the title of this book can be read two ways. It can be mere as in "only" or it can refer to a geological feature, a kind of lake. The mere (only) wife is Willa Herot, a suburban wife and mother living with her husband and son in a mansion that backs up to a mountain with a sulfurous lake at its foot. The mere (lake) wife is Dana Mills. Her story is more complicated. Dana was an American marine fighting in the war in Iraq after 9/11. Her unit was caught in a firefight where everyone The "mere" in the title of this book can be read two ways. It can be mere as in "only" or it can refer to a geological feature, a kind of lake. The mere (only) wife is Willa Herot, a suburban wife and mother living with her husband and son in a mansion that backs up to a mountain with a sulfurous lake at its foot. The mere (lake) wife is Dana Mills. Her story is more complicated. Dana was an American marine fighting in the war in Iraq after 9/11. Her unit was caught in a firefight where everyone was killed except for Dana. She was taken prisoner and was dragged before video cameras by her captors where she was supposedly beheaded. The video was seen around the world. Six months later she wakes up buried in sand and six months pregnant from a sexual encounter which she does not remember. Was it rape or a consensual act? She has no idea. She is returned to the United States where she gives birth to a son, Gren (Grendel). Scarred from war wounds, suffering from PTSD, she retreats with her son to the mountain with the sulfurous lake which is the area where she grew up and where her family lived, died, and was buried long before it became an upscale gated community. Gren is not like other children. Here's how Dana describes him when he is seven years old: "His eyes are gold. He's all bones and angles. He has long lashes, like black feathers. He's almost as tall as I am and he's only 7. To me, he looks like my son. To everyone else? I don't know. A wonder? A danger? A boy? A boy with brown skin?" His persona is changeable. It is in the eye of the beholder and what Dana truly fears is that the beholder - society - sees a monster and will try to destroy him. But what Willa Herot's son, Dylan, sees is just another boy. The two are drawn to each other and become secret friends and when they run away together, their two worlds collide and each mother fights to save her son. Gren is an "other" but does that otherness make him a monster or does it simply make him vulnerable? After all, we are all animals so why should some be viewed as monsters? We see Gren as that changeable creature as perceived by the outside world, but we learn that what he really wants is friendship, love, connection. He may look different but he is perfectly human. This is a tragedy older than the history of English literature. It's the story of Beowulf but retold from the perspective of two mothers and primarily the mother of the monster Grendel. Maria Dahvana Headley steeps her tale in magical realism and dark fantasy. Everything is symbol and metaphor and at any given moment, the reader (at least this reader) feels a sense of disorientation. It is hard to tell where reality ends and illusion begins - or vice versa. The Mere Wife is an ambitious novel that explores what it is to be human and/or a monster. And, oh yes, the tale does have its Beowulf. His name is Ben Wolff and he's a policeman and a veteran like Dana but not really a hero. In fact, true heroism is in short supply here. In the end, although I found the book confusing, it was also compelling. Loosely based on Beowulf, it still has some of the power of that ancient tale.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert Blumenthal

    I really enjoyed this novel till about 1/2 way through it, and then I found myself becoming a bit tired of it. I do love mythology (particularly Greek), but I found it hard to immerse myself in the goings on in this one. When younger, one of my early independently chosen novel experiences was the book Grendel by John Gardner. This was the legend from the monster's point of view. I found it quite compelling and fascinating. The Mere Wife is updated to modern day suburbia, and I almost felt that t I really enjoyed this novel till about 1/2 way through it, and then I found myself becoming a bit tired of it. I do love mythology (particularly Greek), but I found it hard to immerse myself in the goings on in this one. When younger, one of my early independently chosen novel experiences was the book Grendel by John Gardner. This was the legend from the monster's point of view. I found it quite compelling and fascinating. The Mere Wife is updated to modern day suburbia, and I almost felt that the author, obviously tremendously skilled as a writer, almost tried to do too much here. There is a bit of a plot here, though most of it is a potpourri of ruminations about war, PTSD, gentrification, suburban pretension, motherly love, intense friendship, and the question of who are the real heroes vs. the real monsters in our world. A former soldier fighting a war in the Middle East is either beheaded or not by terrorists and somehow comes home to America and has a child with an unnamed and uninvolved father. She calls him Gren (for Grendel) and the child is treated as a monster. Gren befriends the son of Willa and Roger, an iconic suburban couple. Meanwhile, Gren and his mother Dana live in a cave on the outskirts of the suburb. All of this leads to suspicion and battles where it is often unclear who wins and who loses, which of course is an overall paradigm for war in general. There were certainly some things that I didn't really get, though I did find quite a bit of it quite fascinating and thought provoking. There were times where I found it really hard to connect to it all, and my resistance to fantasy might have played a part it that. However, there is much brilliance here. The writing is very strong and confident and the author does have quite a bit to say.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Allow me to let Ron Charles's Totally Hip Video Book Review summarize this novel for you. As his is a tough act to follow, I'll say that what struck me most about the novel was Headley's prose--short, curt, definitive sentences that punctuate a rather frightening tale in which the monsters we need most fear are ourselves. Perhaps its always been this way, but Headley breathes new life into old fears and the violence within which mothers and women survive and fiercely protect home and offspring.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Runalong

    One of those books you just pick up and don’t finish until early hours of the next day. Absolutely fantastic Full review https://www.runalongtheshelves.net/bl...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nadine

    4 1/2 stars. This is a war novel that takes place in the wealthy planned community of Herot Hall, with a tiny rebel band surviving in the mountain (mother Dana and son Gren), massive occupying forces in the valley (the Herot Hall dwellers), generals plotting strategy in the field (perfectly preserved wealthy matriarchs in pearls and designer handbags), and around it all, a Greek chorus speaking for the mere, the mountain and the souls who’ve lived and died there. There are soldiers who go mad wi 4 1/2 stars. This is a war novel that takes place in the wealthy planned community of Herot Hall, with a tiny rebel band surviving in the mountain (mother Dana and son Gren), massive occupying forces in the valley (the Herot Hall dwellers), generals plotting strategy in the field (perfectly preserved wealthy matriarchs in pearls and designer handbags), and around it all, a Greek chorus speaking for the mere, the mountain and the souls who’ve lived and died there. There are soldiers who go mad with the guilt of blood on their hands, and monsters real and imagined. And love and greed and gore and designer kitchens and trains. It is also a loose retelling of Beowulf, with women running the show, though the men don’t realize it. It may have gone a little over the top at the end, but I followed it right over, so I’m not complaining. Headley has some clever little structural tricks that kept me entertained. Also loved the short chapter narrated by the search and rescue dogs. It's exactly what I imagine would be in their heads!

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