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Review: Olympus, Texas, by Stacey Swann

A complex one to write a review for, this one - and I think that's because I wasn't in the right headspace over the past couple of days to read this book, but it might be worth a reread when I'm in a better place.

Basically, this is a very loose retelling of the broad swathe of Greek mythology. Stacey Swann is using a core group of Olympians (Zeus, Hades, Hera, Athena, Hephaestus, Ares, Venus, Artemis, and Apollo) as stand-ins for different types of psychologies and to examine a bunch of very messy dynamics. Peter, the patriarch, is a serial adulterer with three out-of-wedlock children and June takes him back every time but lets the anger and the resentment build until she starts taking it out on her children; Thea, the oldest daughter of Peter and June, blames her mother instead of her father for the fact that their parenting isn't great; March has an anger disorder and has never been able to hold down a job; Hap and his wife are separating because Vera won't stop sleeping with March; Arlo is pissed at his twin Artie because she's started dating someone seriously and he doesn't want to share her; and then everything comes to a head when Arlo goads Artie into accidentally shooting her new boyfriend on a hunting trip.

Reader, it's a fucking lot.

Intellectually I quite liked this book - I liked the way the build-up to the climactic event of the novel (the shooting) is slow, really allowing the tension to layer in between the different members of this deeply fucked up family; I like the way the narrative layers in the 'origin' points of the central character's anger towards each other (although, is there one point that you can clearly identify as the beginning of resentment towards your parents? I certainly can't - anyway, discuss!); and I liked the way Stacey Swann makes the Olympians stand in as examples of the deadly sins. It was a clever way of folding in two separate dominant mythologies, and in a way that I haven't seen done before.

But, oh boy, emotionally I struggled, because every single character is terrible, and is awful to everybody around them, and withholds love as punishment for other people's sins (June, you are a terrible mother; and Thea, you really should have grown out of your adolescent way of blaming them by now). I thought I liked books with not a single likeable character, but actually, I think I need at least one of them to have someone they do love and treat with kindness - and in this book, the only kindness we see is weaponized as forms of manipulation. And, reader, let me tell you, over the past two days when my own attempt at being kind to someone who maybe doesn't deserve it anymore got thrown back in my face rather spectacularly (I'm sure I'll fill you in on it whenever I see you next), but I really wasn't okay with seeing these people who are supposed to love each other treat each other with such casual callousness. I just wanted one paragraph of someone offering their sibling a comforting hug, instead of constantly using each other as emotional punching bags and competing for who can make the nastiest underhanded comment.

Yes, I know they're fictional, but that's not the point.

I'm holding off on recommending this book until I can reread it, and ascertain if how difficul t I found it is a reader problem or a book problem.

Can someone recommend something really light and fluffy that's not going to be hard to read at all? Because all of the books on my TBR right now are about people making bad choices and using other people as emotional punching bags and I'm just so, so tired.

Happy reading (it might be too early to have a drink - brandy in the tea?),

Amélie xx

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I’m Amélie, I love books and reading, and I also love talking about them.

I’m incredibly lucky to be bilingual, so I read books in both French and English, and will talk about both of those on here – although I will do more in English, since I know that’s probably what the majority of the people who ever find this blog will be interested in!

I also like history, traveling, Shakespeare, coffee, cheese, musicals, Italian Baroque art, the ballet, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You, flowers, makeup, high heels, and baking. Yes, I’m a walking cliché. I am aware.

Please do tweet at me with any suggestions/book recommendations/thoughts.

In case you’re curious – yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time.

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