cover image The Mere Wife

The Mere Wife

Maria Dahvana Headley. MCD, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-20843-1

“Everyone might be a monster underneath their skin,” thinks Dana Mills, a character in this clever reimagining of Beowulf as a mordant glimpse of the mores of contemporary suburbia. Dana is a maimed ex-soldier who lives in an abandoned railroad tunnel above her hometown, Herot Hall, with Gren, her son, through whom the author, by being intentionally vague about his appearance, emphasizes the idea that monstrousness is in the eye of the beholder. When Gren befriends Dylan “Dil” Herot (Gren and Dil’s names combine to sound much like Grendel, one of the antagonists in Beowulf), the young son of descendants of the town’s founder with whom he shares a close bond, the stage is set for a dramatic face-off between Dana and local cop Ben Woolf. When Ben is called to investigate Dana and Dil’s unintended disruption of a Christmas party at the Herots’, he interprets it as a home invasion that must be avenged. Headley (Magonia) applies the broad contours of the Beowulf story to her tale but skillfully seeds her novel with reflections on anxieties and neuroses that speak to the concerns of modern parenting. Her narrative leaps between grisly incidents of violence and touching moments of motherly love that turn her tale’s source material inside out and situate it in a recognizable modern landscape where, as Ben accepts, “the world isn’t large enough for monsters and heroes at once.” (July)