Sunday, February 21, 2010

100 Pages In - The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

Almost having Classics as my "third" major in college, my heart skipped a beat when I received a Google Alert about a new novel that revisits Homer's protagonist with a perspective similar to Calvino and Borges. Personally, I like revisionist history, partly because it nourishes my belief that history is more narrative than fact, mainly because it's just out right fun. For me, the stories I read did remind me of a cocktail of the Homer's Odyssey, Borges's A Garden of Forking Path, and Calvino's Invisible Cities, successfully decontextualizing, a la postmodernism, the Homeric tradition. So, as I approach The Lost Books of the Odyssey at 100 pages in, I am thoroughly entertained and find myself carefully, pleasantly navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of stories that composes Mason's book.
While most of what I've read is great, not all of the stories hit their mark. Some stories end just as they are getting started. Others keep themselves safe but remaining too closely docked to the Homeric tradition. But all in all, the stories work as a whole, offering an intellegent, creative, and well-researched look at Odysseus. While keeping Homer's epic thoughtfully in mind, Mason bravely arms himself with different styles and different voices to express a range of possibilities and permutations that the Odyssey, and our existence, might suggest. Because eventhough all the stories do not hit their mark, the narratives that do make it through the eye of the axe-heads are superb, resonating with the reader long after and urging the reader to sail on to discover new possibilities for Odysseus.
In recent years, I have lived with the understanding that the old patterns always have the need to reexpress themselves. Somewhere there is a besieged wife waiting for her husband to come home from a senseless war; somewhere there is a son about to discover a truth that will destroy his life; somewhere there is a minotaur raging in a labyrinth. Mason's Lost Book of the Odyssey subtly, beautifully reminds us that if we change these patterns just a little bit, maybe we'll work through it, maybe we'll find a way home, and maybe we'll finally be free.

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