Is the #MeToo Era too Proper for Ovid?

I would buy a ticket if Ovid gave a reading on Zoom. If he is resurrected from the dead let me know. I might even be persuaded to attend “Ovid in Conversation with a Modern Poet.”

Ovid is the wittiest, most elegant of Roman poets, but here is what translators conceal: he is extremely bawdy, positively filthy at times.

You would think Amores II.15, an elegy addressed to the ring he plans to give his mistress, would be simple and sweet. That would be too facile for Ovid, who glories in eroticism and jokes. I have translated a few lines to unveil the double entendres.

O ring, about to encircle my mistress’ finger…
May she put it on joyfully and rub it on her knuckles.
May you fit together as my cock fits her vagina,
and may you rub her finger – perfectly sized.

Did you know that Shakespeare used the word “ring” for “vagina” in The Merchant of Venice, V.1.307? Ovid was hugely influential.

Translators tone down the Amores, while scholars explicate the double entendres and argue over problems in the text. The sexual puns are Roman, understood by Roman readers.

Brilliant Ovid had his detractors. Augustus tried to legislate morality. He banished Ovid to an island for carmen et error, “a poem and an error,” and perhaps his poetry would raise hackles in the #MeToo era, too.

You know what I say: love the writing, but don’t bother about the writers’ personal lives. You don’t need to approve them as your best friends. You just need their words.

A Role Model for the 1960’s: “Harriet the Spy”

If you were a girl in the 1960’s, you were nine or ten when you read Harriet the Spy. The cover art was irresistible: a bespectacled girl in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans strolls through a run-down New York neighborhood carrying a notebook, with a flashlight hooked to her belt. You didn’t wonder why the gear: it seemed natural, especially for Harriet, an aspiring writer who spied on people and took notes. And when her writing got her into trouble, we empathized.

I read Harriet several times as a child – probably the last time was in seventh grade. Many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have cited it as a major influence. In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, a book about a reading one book a day for a year, Nina Sankovitch mentions that she so identified with Harriet that she insisted on carrying a notebook and a flashlight. Mystery writer Cara Black also read Harriet. “Of course, I ate tomato sandwiches and wanted to be a spy. They wouldn’t take me. So I turned to writing.” And Jonathan Franzen wrote a blurb on the cover of the anniversary edition (see picture at top of page).

Why am I thinking about Harriet the Spy? My husband alerted me to a review in The New York Review of Books of a new biography by Leslie Brody, Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy.

Knowing absolutely nothing about Fitzhugh, I have read the opening chapters with fascination. Fitzhugh was primarily an artist,which makes sense, since her bold, witty illustrations are as important as the text. Her humorous depictions of the characters’ self-absorption and androgynous style underscored the growing resistance to traditional femininity. So many of us identified with Harriet, partly because of the freedom of her clothes. It was the boys’ sneakers we especially liked.

Illustration of Harriet by Louise Fitzhugh

Fitzhugh, raised in the South by wealthy parents, escaped from Memphis when she and her girlfriend Amelia hatched a plan to attend Bard College. She became an artist in New York, with varying degrees of success. In the photos, we see an impossibly tiny Louise who looks like a little boy. Though Fitzhugh was a known lesbian artist, her sexuality was kept under wraps in terms of author information available to the public: it would have ruined her children’s writing career to be known as gay.

Louise Fitzhugh and photographer Gina Jackson, about 1952.

I have always understood that Harriet the Spy is a classic, frequently compared to The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. And so I was astonished to learn that some reviewers disliked it when it was published in 1964.

Brody writes:

Some children’s books critics simply couldn’t get over how “nasty” they thought she was, and what “a horrid example” she set. … When Harriet says, “I’ll be damned if I’ll go to dancing school,” she sends up a howl as staggering – in its way – as Allen Ginsberg’s poem by the same name.

Brody, a witty, compassionate writer, places Fitzhugh’s life and quirky work in the context of her times. She points out that Fitzhugh and Betty Friedan were writing breakthrough books the same year. Women’s lives were changing.

Long live Louise Fitzhugh’s books! By the way, she also wrote two sequels to Harriet the Spy, The Long Secret and Sport. Harriet is the best of them, if I remember correctly, but perhaps the others are worth a second look. I lost my copies long, long ago.

A Sentient Country House: “China Court” by Rumer Godden

The copyright page of Rumer Godden’s brilliant 1960 novel, China Court, says: “A serial version of this book appeared in The Ladies’ Home Journal.”

Oh, my goodness! That means my grandma read it. She subscribed to McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. The magazines were neatly stacked on shelves in the sun room and sometimes we spent an afternoon reading them and eating peppermints. The serialization of China Court, however, would have been before my time.

China Court is one of Rumer Godden’s best novels – and one of my favorites – and must have given enormous pleasure to home-loving readers and aspiring homeowners who pored over the women’s magazines for decor suggestions. In this stunning novel, Godden tells the story of five generations of the smart, turbulent, often unhappy Quins at China Court, their beautiful country house.

Godden’s layered, generous prose and temporal flexibility make this a modernist masterpiece – says I, though critics often dismiss her. At China House, inanimate objects are as important, sometimes more important, than the animate. Books and houses are characters in their own right. And each chapter opens with a page from The Book of Hours, which Mrs. Quin reads daily, and the book defines recurring time, from Lauds to Matins, and is a piece in the puzzle of China Court’s survival. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, shifting from one century to the next and back again in successive stories. There is a family tree in the front of the book for when you lose track of the characters.

The house and Mrs. Quin/Ripsie are at the crux of the book. Ripsie is an outsider and a lifelong friend of the boys; she marries into the family and becomes Mrs. Quin, and loves China Court more than any of them. But she, too, suffered an early grief: she was in love with Borowis Quin, a charming ne’er-do-well who dumped her after their affair and married another woman for money. His brother, John Henry, the kind, hard-working businessman who kept everything together, stepped up and announced his engagement to Ripsie at a dance, out of pity and without asking her first. She accepted, and the marriage is happy enough. Long after his death – she outlives him by thirty years, dying in 1960 – she loves and takes care of the house, making sacrifices for it, putting it ahead of everything.

The book begins with a death. Let me quote the beginning, to give you a sense of Godden’s style, and the sense that the house is a living, breathing, sentient character, even through death. It starts with the death of the central character.

Old Mrs. Quin died in her sleep in the early hours of an August morning.

The sound of the bell came into the house, but did not disturb it; it was quite used to death, and birth, and life.

The usual house sounds went on, but muted: footsteps, upstairs, Dr. Taft’s, though he did not stay long – “Cause of death, stopped living,” wrote Dr. Taft on the certificate and said he would call in at Mrs. Abel’s on the way home; then Mrs. Abel’s steps, as, quietly, she did what she had to do and, downstairs, Cecily’s as she carried up the coal and made up the kitchen fire, hers and Bumble’s, the old spaniel’s, padding as he followed her backward and forward, forward and backward;…

Births, marriages, and death dominate China House; and the women, who must tend to the stages of life, tend to be unhappy. For instance, the sparkling Lady Patrick (Mrs. Quin’s mother-in-law) adores her sexy husband Jared, but upon returning a few days early from a retreat at a convent, she discovers him cheating on her in their own bed, and she is shattered and embittered. Then there is Jared’s sister, Eliza, a brilliant but bitter spinster who, after she takes over the housekeeping from Lady Pat, cheats on the housekeeping money so as to buy first editions of rare books. Later, she meets a terrible death after the children and villagers see her visiting the gravestone of the clerk who taught her about rare books. They decide she is a witch.

Ah, poor Eliza! Reading women are always in trouble!

The question after Mrs. Quin’s death is: will her granddaughter Tracy take over, or will Mrs. Quin’s conventional, stuffy adult children have their way and sell?

Are you a fan of Godden? And, if so, what is your favorite of her books?

Do you like her writing, or does it grate on you?

I love it, of course.

Happy Godden reading!

The Electronic Age: Where Have All the Columnists Gone?

I have tried. I do not succeed, but I try. I sporadically attempt to interpret the nuances of social media. The deterioration of the language in tweets so annoyed me that I canceled the account, but I do “like” the beautiful if meaningless photos on Bookstagram. I also “like” blogs–for the reason that “likes” have become more common than comments.

Veronica Cartwright in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

Sometimes I feel like Nancy (played by Veronica Carter) in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Nancy is the sole survivor of a cadre of four resisters because she learns to imitate the man-eating-plant body snatchers’ walk and to repress human emotions. I may elude the Body Snatchers of Walking Smart Phones by pressing a tablet to my ear and pretending to have a call.

Jean Kerr, author of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Snake Has All the Lines, & Penny Candy.

No, really, I do not belong to this era. I would have preferred the age of domestic satire (the 1930s-1960s) – and then, thank God, I would have missed out on the pandemic. But where have all the domestic columnists gone? I love the Provincial Lady, Mrs. Tim, Betty MacDonald, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Emily Kimbrough, Shirley Jackson, and Jean Kerr. There are no such writers in the 21st century.

I also miss the era of book columns. There used to be a book column on every newspaper’s book page. I was startled last year when J.C. (James Campbell) contributed his last N.B. column to the TLS. I still miss it: it was a cozy weekly ritual to read it with a cup of tea. His replacement, M.C., works hard but lacks charm. He/she is improving. The past is past.

There are very few book columnists left. Here are three of the best of the last.

  1. The novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby is still penning “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” for the Believer. So much fun to read, and his latest column will make you desperate to read Kevin Wilson.
  2. If you’re not familiar with John Warner, the Biblioracle columnist at the Chicago Tribune, do what you can to get through the paywall. He was inspired by seeing a copy of Leon Uris’s Trinity in a Little Free Library to write the following witty column: “We’re not reading as much Leon Uris and James A. Michener — and that’s a good thing.”

He writes, “When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, writers like Uris, John Jakes (“North and South”), James Michener, and James Clavell (‘Shogun”), reliably pumped out epic historical novels that served as definitive texts of a particular time and culture. Uris was also my main source of information on the state of Israel, via another best-seller from the ’50s, “Exodus,” that endured as a strong selling book well into my childhood.”

  1. Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post Book World, writes a weekly column (billed as a review, but actually a wonderful column that will introduce you to books you’ve never heard of).

Do you have any favorite columnists? Perhaps there are some in women’s magazines… It’s a strange world.

After the Vaccine

I’m sure this Canadian cartoon is applicable almost everywhere..

Our Bodies, Ourselves, written by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and published in 1970 by the New England Free Press, changed the lives and attitudes of American women. It disseminated crucial information about women’s bodies, sexuality, birth control, menopause, and medical care. We learned to navigate a health care system that often treated women as hysterical beings in need of Valium (some became addicts) and hysterectomies.

I wonder, Do we need a similar handbook for the Covid years, perhaps a small-press book with the title Our Covid, Our Corpses? (Sorry, morbidity is unhelpful.) But is it not surreal to continue to live in a state of emergency after getting a vaccine that is 95% effective? When you get a flu shot, you do not wait until everybody gets the vaccine. You would wait forever. I do not mind wearing a mask and I am the social-distancing queen of the grocery store, but do we vaccinated people need our masks or are we expected to be role models for the unvaccinated (so they don’t rip off their masks and infect everybody – their dream)?

Yes, the world is in a state of emergency, in and out of lockdown. Yes, this is a grave time, but we are are becoming demented. How long can people stand lockdown? Regardless of lockdown, the young will be out protesting this summer. Regardless of lockdown, some of us will have to go out for pizza. I do not care to participate in a protest, but we vaccinated ones should be encouraged to live normal lives–if the thing works!

As for our personal lives during the pandemic: it turns out that the Rooms of Our Own are not nearly as private as Virginia Woolf hoped. Nowadays we are all home together, working, making toast, turning on the radio, asking where the hummus is. You might have liked your family once… before the pandemic!

Ovid’s Prayer for Corinna, “Amores, II.13”

Roman wall painting.

You may well know his epic poem, Metamorphoses, a collection of myths linked by the theme of change, and undoubtedly the most renowned Latin poem after Virgil’s Aeneid. Ovid wrote many delightful poems, including the silly didactic Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), and his eclectic Amores (Loves).

One of the Amores (Loves) is of particular interest, a prayer for his girlfriend Corinna, who has an abortion and lies between life and death. It is, as far as I know, one of only two Latin poems to treat this controversial subject in detail, the second also being by Ovid. Ovidians say the word onus (burden) is used of the fetus for the first time in Latin here; and gravidus venter (swollen belly) the first time for “pregnant womb.” Fascinated by the odd juxtaposition of Ovid’s examination of his love and anger and the formal prayer to Isis, I decided to translate this. You can find the Latin poem below my translation.

My translation of Amores, II.13

When she rashly shook the burden from her womb,
Corinna lay weakened, in doubt of her life.
Having borne such peril without my knowledge
She deserved my anger, but anger died from fear.
She had conceived by me, or so I trust:
But that could be my theory, not fact.
I pray to you, Isis, dweller of Paraetoneum
and the fertile plains of Canopus,
Memphis and palm-bearing Pharon,
And where the swift Nile, having fallen
In a wide bed, travels through seven mouths
Into the waters of the sea;
I pray by your Isis-rattles,
by the revered head of Anubis,
may pious Osiris love your sacred rites,
May the slow serpent slink around the altar
And may horn-bearing Apis, sacred bull,
accompany you in procession.
Turn your face hither and spare two in one:
You will give my mistress life, she to me.
Having honored you often, she sits on certain days
when the crowd of priests waters your laurel.
And you, Ilithyia, having pitied the pregnant girls
Whose hidden burden distends their bodies,
Be gentle here and well-disposed to my prayers.
She is worthy whom you command to your service.
I myself, in white robes, will burn incense on
your smoky altars. I myself will bear gifts
to your feet and prayers. Let me add
the title, “Ovid for your saving Corinna”:
Just make a place for the inscription and gifts.
and if it is lawful to have given warning in such fear, let it be enough
for you to have fought on this side in the battle.

Ovid’s poem in Latin

XIII

Dum labefactat onus gravidi temeraria ventris,
    in dubio vitae lassa Corinna iacet.
illa quidem clam me tantum molita pericli
    ira digna mea; sed cadit ira metu.
sed tamen aut ex me conceperat—aut ego credo;
     est mihi pro facto saepe, quod esse potest.
Isi, Paraetonium genialiaque arva Canopi
    quae colis et Memphin palmiferamque Pharon,
quaque celer Nilus lato delapsus in alveo
    per septem portus in maris exit aquas,
per tua sistra precor, per Anubidis ora verendi—
    sic tua sacra pius semper Osiris amet,
pigraque labatur circa donaria serpens,
    et comes in pompa corniger Apis eat!  
huc adhibe vultus, et in una parce duobus!
    nam vitam dominae tu dabis, illa mihi.
saepe tibi sedit certis operata diebus,
    qua cingit laurus Gallica turma tuas.
Tuque laborantes utero miserata puellas,
    quarum tarda latens corpora tendit onus,
lenis ades precibusque meis fave, Ilithyia!
    digna est, quam iubeas muneris esse tui.
ipse ego tura dabo fumosis candidus aris,
    ipse feram ante tuos munera vota pedes.
adiciam titulum: ‘servata Naso Corinna!’
    tu modo fac titulo muneribusque locum.
Si tamen in tanto fas est monuisse timore,
    hac tibi sit pugna dimicuisse satis!

Emily Dickinson: We talked as Girls do – (392)

This is one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson. I love the short stanzas, including the dash as her favorite punctuation mark, but the meaning, as so often, is cryptic. She can admittedly be ironic, morbid, witty, dark, and a bit saucy. I was intrigued by the concept of 19th-century girl talk, and “identified myself” with the “We” of the poem. Oh, this is light Emily, I thought gratefully – but then she mentions “the Grave” in the third line – And then all the dashes disappear in the last stanza, which seems very dark.

I will post a short, very slightly more serious piece on her poetry soon. I must think and compose myself first. Meanwhile, enjoy!

We talked as Girls do – (392)

We talked as Girls do— 
Fond, and late— 
We speculated fair, on every subject, but the Grave— 
Of ours, none affair— 

We handled Destinies, as cool— 
As we—Disposers—be— 
And God, a Quiet Party 
To our Authority— 

But fondest, dwelt upon Ourself 
As we eventual—be— 
When Girls to Women, softly raised 
We—occupy—Degree— 

We parted with a contract 
To cherish, and to write 
But Heaven made both, impossible 
Before another night.

National Poetry Month: A New Translation of Virgil’s “Aeneid”

There is a smart new translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, by Shadi Bartsch, a classics professor at the University of Chicago. We have seen a number of translations of Virgil in the twenty-first century; and at first I wondered if we needed another. But Bartsch’s spirited, readable translation is a worthy addition to to the Virgil canon. It is a labor of love by a scholar-poet who has examined every nuance, matched each line of English translation to the Latin lines, and attended to problematic lines that continue to stump scholars.

Readers at Thornfield Hall know my love of Latin poetry. I am fond of Virgil, whom I first met through Rolfe Humphries’s lively translation of the Aeneid in an undergraduate class. Hypnotized by the brilliant, nerdy world of classicists, I did a crash course in Latin, and three years later was teaching Virgil in Latin as a T.A. And not for the last time.

The problems of translation are manifold. Latin is an inflected language, unlike English, and the sense does not depend on word order, but on word endings that cue the reader to the relationship of words in the sentence. We are not only reading but deciphering a puzzle that can seem jumbled until you understand the elegant effect of separation.

Bartsch addresses many such problems in the Translator’s Note, including the challenge of Latin vocabulary.

Bartsch explains,

Latin words do not map cleanly onto English words, and this gives every translator a choice of which term brings the most appropriate nuances for the situation…. Consider the verb condo. Condo basically has the sense of “to put x in y” (including in one’s memory). It also means to bury, to hide, to plunge a weapon into a body, to found or establish (as a city)–and to compose verse!

I am a fan of comparing English translations, and have decided to share the fun with you. Below are two translations of Aeneid, Book XII, vv. 595-603, the first by Bartsch, and the second by Rolfe Humphries.

First, let me explain the context. Queen Amata, who opposed a marriage between her daughter Lavinia and Aeneas, a Trojan refugee fated to found Rome, stirred up a civil war in Italy. Amata is half in love with Turnus, the Italian prince who was the favored suitor of Lavinia. Now, when Amata sees the Trojans attacking the walls, and no sign of Turnus, she believes he is dead, and decides to commit suicide herself. There are similarities between suicidal Amata and suicidal Dido (Book IV), and yet the parallels are strange: Amata is a married middle-aged queen with a thing for her daughter’s aspiring fiance; Dido a young widowed queen in love with Aeneas, then deserted by him.

From Shadi Bartsch’s new translation, vv. 595-603 in Book XII of the Aeneid

When the queen, at home, saw the enemy
approach, saw the walls attacked, torches flying
at the roofs, no Rutulians defending,
none of Turnus’ troops, the unhappy woman
thought he’d died in combat. Pierced by sudden grief,
she cried she was the cause and culmination
of their pain. Speaking wildly, in despair,
and set on death, she tore her purple robe
and hung a noose around a beam–an ugly end.

From Rolfe Humphries, lines 595-603 in Book XII of the Aeneid

…the queen
Had seen the Trojans coming and the walls
Under attack and fire under the gables
And no Rutulian column, nowhere Turnus
Coming to help. He had been killed, her hero,
She knew at last. Her mind was gone; she cried
Over and over:–I am the guilty one,
I am the cause, the source of all these evils!”
And other wilder words. And then she tore
Her crimson robes, and slung a noose and fastened
The knot of ugly death to the high rafter.

Here is the Latin:

regina ut tectis venientem prospicit hostem,               595
incessi muros, ignis ad tecta volare,
nusquam acies contra Rutulas, nulla agmina Turni,
infelix pugnae iuvenem in certamine credit
exstinctum et subito mentem turbata dolore
se causam clamat crimenque caputque malorum,               600
multaque per maestum demens effata furorem
purpureos moritura manu discindit amictus
et nodum informis leti trabe nectit ab alta.

Which translation do you prefer?

Changing the Sky & Reading Tea Leaves

I have tried meditation, yoga, and herbal teas to treat anxiety. When a vaccinated friend dropped in the other day, the tension vanished.

We chatted about our year of fear and then turned to the future and read each other’s tea leaves. She foretells a long journey (I wish!). I foretell that she will come into money and take me on a journey.

“It’s the travel I miss,” she said.

Me. too. We can guard our health with the vacccine, masks, etc., but we cannot travel away from the pandemic. And the most important way to stay calm, I have discovered, is not only avoiding the crowd but avoiding the news.

There has been much drama lately about whether or not rare blood clots in women are caused by one of the vaccines. I am very sorry for those women, but the scientific data isn’t in yet, so I am not jumping to conclusions. My advice? Get vaccinated. You will feel safer. Make an appointment for another vaccine if you’re afraid of the brand on pause. I don’t know anyone who has had any problems, except for a few normal side effects. And how I wish I hadn’t read the news!

Speaking of shots, our vacation is shot because of the pandemic. I read an article in The Washington Post about the possibility of international travel this summer. The writer interviewed people in their sixties and seventies who had postponed international trips last year and hoped to travel this summer. They have canceled their trips again. It is common sense, but I do feel sorry for them. Time is ticking by…

I have not given up entirely on travel. Every day I receive emails about cheap flights and cheap stays in luxury hotels. I fantasize about going, but what I would do when I got there? Stay in the hotel?

I am trying to change my way of thinking about the slow pace of life in 2021. I think of my mother and grandmother, who lived in the same place all their lives and seldom traveled. Their lives were in the moment, defined by routine and small pleasures. I moved away and occasionally traveled, but as Horace says, When you travel you only change your sky.

This is how I imagine the 1950’s, only with internet.

Weekend Reading for Everyone: An Environmental Whodunit, a Retold Myth, & Clubbing in the 1980’s

First things first.

I love my weekend reading. Really, I do. And I want you to love yours, too. We humans are not designed to curl up in a ball during infinite lockdown; and yet that is the way we live now. As an intermittent psychic, inspired by the coming of spring, I foresee that we all need a good genre read this weekend!

Here are three I’ve recently read: Jeff VanderMeer’s environmental SF novel, Hummingbird Salamander; Jennifer Saint’s retold myth, Ariadne; and Natalie Standiford’s Astrid Sees All, a female answer to Jay McInerney’s ’80’s clubbing novel, Bright Lights, Big City.

And please add your book recommendations!

  1. Jeff VanderMeer’s environmental whodunit, Hummingbird Salamander, is a hybrid of genre and literary fiction. It has everything I look for in environmental SF: a lucid style, quirky characters, speculations about climate change and the future of Earth, allusions to pandemics, and observations about the tragic extinction of birds and animals. The narrator, Jane, struggles to decipher the meaning of an extinct taxidermic hummingbird, which she finds in a storage unit after a barista hands her a note and key from a stranger.

This smart novel is almost insanely breathtaking, accentuated by Jane’s witty tough-gal musings. At six feet tall and 220 pounds, Jane is a former bodybuilder and wrestler, a force to be reckoned with, as well as a sympathetic wife and supportive mother. But home is not the center of her attention. As a cybersecurity expert, paranoid Jane knows the ins and outs of corporate culture and more than you want to know about how we are tracked on computers and phones. When she learns that the stranger, Silvina, is the daughter of a particularly dangerous CEO, that she was allegedly a bioterrorist, and is probably now dead, Jane embarks on amateur detective work and dangerous conversations with criminals. Things get dicey–Jane and her family are being watched–and pretty soon she’s on the road, running from danger and searching for answers.

Oh, and occasionally VanderMeer waxes poetic:

The internet was a colander. You were the water. The metaphor changed by the week. It didn’t always make sense.

2. In her feminist debut novel Ariadne, Jennifer Saint relates an empowering tale of two mythic sisters, Ariadne and Phaedra. In case you need a quick family tree (and who doesn’t?), here is a little background: their mother Pasiphaë fall sin love in love with a bull (a god’s cruel trick), and gives birth to the Minotaur, half human, half bull. Shut up in a maze, the savage Minotaur is paid tribute once a year by seven Athenian men and seven Athenian women, whom he devours. King Minos takes pleasure in terrorizing the subject Athenians and in embarrassing his own family. (He is the only one not related to the Minotaur.).

And then Theseus, the handsome prince of Athens, arrives with the other 13 Athenians who will be the tributes. He claims he will kill the Minotaur and save the Athenians. Ariadne and Phaedra are so mesmerized by his charisma they help him with the killing of their monstrous brother. In fact, without these two he could not have done it, but afterwards he boasts that he did it all himself and deserts both girls, leaving Ariadne on an uninhabited island, and having misdirected Phaedra. I don’t want to give away the plot, but I will tell you that the two sister’s lives are entwined with Theseus. Poor things!

I found the first part of Ariadne rather lacklustre, but it is intriguing by the time you reach Part II, when Saint begins to alternate the narrative of Ariadne with that of her fiery sister Phaedra. A little uneven, but lots of fun to read!

Natalie Standiford’s Astrid Sees All is a comical, poignant, compulsively readable novel about two fragile young women struggling to survive in New York City. Phoebe, the narrator, idolized her friend Carmen at Brown University, and still tries to get her attention now that she is in New York. The two eventually move into Carmen’s junkie boyfriend’s trashed apartment in the East Village; and he is so grotesque, constantly oozing with infection or overdosing, that Phoebe cannot imagine how Carmen can love him. The two young women are out every night clubbing, getting drunk, taking drugs, and getting laid, and keeping up the pace can be exhausting. The creative Carmen comes up with a way for Phoebe to make a living: telling fortunes at a club, using her collection of old movie ticket stubs to make prognostications. And with her new persona of Astrid (Carmen suggested the prophecies be made under the sign “Astrid sees all”), Phoebe finally becomes hip and popular. But both women are deeply self-destructive, and Phoebe/Astrid’s imitation of her friend’s loose behavior causes devastation. An entertaining, if uneven novel.

I am reminded of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City-which is a better novel –but his much preppier narrator also went clubbing every night and snorted too many drugs. Here’s what I want to know: was your 1980s like that? Mine was not. Coffee was my beverage and books my vice.