This was a GOOD BOOK, y’all. It definitely broke my streak of meh thrillers. It’s also a retelling of Beowulf (a book I remember WAY more of than I expected to, considering I read it almost 20 years ago) which makes it my Remix! bingo square.
“Listen,’ someone whispers into my ear. ‘Listen to me.’
Am I dead?
‘Listen,’ the voice whispers. ‘In some countries, you kill a monster when it’s born. Other places, you kill it only when it kills someone else. Other places, you let it go, out into the forest or the sea, and it lives there forever, calling for others of its kind. Listen to me, it cries. Maybe it’s just alone.”
The Mere Wife takes place in Herot Hall, a beautiful subdivision owned by Roger Herot. His wife Willa and their son Dylan have the run of the place — everything they could possibly want is within the walls of the neighborhood. Willa, spoiled and bored, would never let Dylan outside — or down the mountain. Down the mountain, another mother lives — Dana, a soldier who returned from war pregnant. Hurt and traumatized, Dana gives birth in a cave to a son named Gren — a son she is determined to protect from the outside world.
“Inside the mountain, inside the train, one boy kisses the other, and the other kisses him back, and there is nothing but history between them, and history is enough to make a future.”
If you know Beowulf, you’ll have a general sense of where things are going, but if you’ve never read it (or read it in high school and remember about 10% of it), you won’t be lost here. Headley tells this story brilliantly — two damaged mothers who fight tooth and nail to protect their own.
“Do you think sixty-five-year-old women don’t go to war? We are always at war. Our husbands spent their lives in comfortable chairs. Have we ever sat in comfortable chairs? No. Yoga balls, haunches tensed.”
My absolute favorite part of The Mere Wife was the chorus. The novel switches between a couple of different perspectives — we hear some parts in first person, while others are in third person. And then every once in a while, the chorus comes between two chapters. Like a chorus in ancient literature, it is a collection of voices all coming together to tell a part of the story. But for the modern twist, these voices are the mothers of the men and women of Herot Hall. You can just picture them riding through the town in their pearls, ruling Herot Hall with an manicured fist. It was a really neat and interesting touch, and did a fantastic job of both tying the story together and propelling it forward.