cover image Bright Air Black

Bright Air Black

David Vann. Grove/Black Cat, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2580-4

Vann retells the story of Medea, a famously wicked figure from Greek mythology, in this intensely visual but psychologically shallow novel. The story opens with Medea and her soon-to-be-husband, Jason, escaping with the Argonauts from Colchis, Medea’s home. Medea has helped Jason steal the Golden Fleece from her father, the king of Colchis, who now pursues them in his own ship. She’s also brought the corpse of her brother, whom she has murdered and brutally dismembered, on board, aware that her father won’t destroy the Argo as long as his son’s body is on it. Amid her brother’s remains—“fused to the wood, dried and shrunken and infested with maggots”—Medea reflects angrily on the injustice inherent in being a woman and on her desire for dominance. “She should be a queen with no king,” she thinks. “She will not be mastered.” Medea’s rage for power, and her resentment of the various men who would deny her it, only increases when the Argo arrives in Iolcus, Jason’s home, where Medea carries out more violent exploits in her quest for self-determination. Vann writes richly imaginative prose, but his characterization of Medea as a furious barbarian feels both unbelievable and stale—confirming rather than complicating the ideas we already have of her. (Mar.)