The Rime of the Modern Mariner

Nick Hayes. Viking, $32 (336p) ISBN 978-0-670-02580-0
The updating of a literary classic is always fraught with peril—which could be why so many authors prefer to create their own offshoots (Sena Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife). But Hayes’s startlingly fresh and innovative take on Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” could be studied as an example of how to modernize a classic without pretending to supplant the original. Hayes turns Coleridge’s 1797 apocalyptic epic into an ecological warning, wherein a careless litterbug of a businessman is accosted by a sailor with burning eyes and a tale of woe. Part of the story mirrors Coleridge’s (a carelessly murdered bird brings damnation upon the crusty mariner’s vessal), but the atmospherics are more charged with the dangers of modernity. This mariner’s boat is trapped in a floating archipelago of fouled plastic garbage (much like the real one, the size of a country, which swirls today in the Pacific), which mutely rebukes the viewpoint of the businessman and his “world detached of consequence.” Hayes is a political cartoonist, and his writing isn’t nearly as memorable as his illustrations, which convey the beauty of the world and the pity of its destruction with a gorgeous brand of vehemence. His panels, awash in light blues, swoop and flow like aquatic woodcuts of an earlier era. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 10/25/2012
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Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-0-224-09025-4
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