cover image Glorious Exploits

Glorious Exploits

Ferdia Lennon. Holt, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250893-69-7

Lennon brings ancient Sicily to life with humor and pathos in his stunning debut. Thousands of Athenian soldiers are being held prisoner in Syracuse after a failed assault during the Peloponnesian War. Two unemployed potters, Lampo and Gelon, decide to recruit some of the prisoners, who have been left to die in quarries near the city, to perform a selection of Euripides’ plays in exchange for food. Gelon, fearing the defeat of Athens could mean the end of its rich history of tragic drama, wants to stage Medea and The Trojan Women, the latter of which depicts the grim aftermath of Troy’s defeat in the Trojan War. Lampo becomes increasingly invested in the project and discomfited by the brutal treatment of Sicily’s vanquished rivals. By giving his leads a sense of purpose during dark and bloody times, Lennon makes the success of their offbeat venture feel important to the reader, and he thoroughly explores the novel’s melancholy central theme—the world is “a wounded thing that can only be healed by story”—all the way up to the gut-punch denouement. It’s not all dreary, though. Lampo’s crackling modern vernacular adds just the right amount of levity, as when he comments on the hot weather: “Even the lizards are hiding, poking their heads out from under rocks and trees as if to say, Apollo, are you fucking joking?” Lennon’s vital tale captivates. (Mar.)