Position:Book review

Katharine Beutner; ALCESTIS; Soho Press (Adult Fiction) $23.00 ISBN: 1569476179

Queen Alcestis exists in literature and art as the quintessential good wife a woman who loved her husband enough to take his place in the underworld. In Katharine Beutners debut novel Alcestiss tale is repeated but this time our cultural assumptions about her story are questioned. Traditionally Alcestiss tale concentrates on her selfless devotion to her husband Admetus; but now we wonder what if it was not resolute love that caused Alcestiss choice? Alcestiss three days in the underworld have historically been given little attention; what happened in those days? Beutners novel offers a unique perspective on Alcestiss story and renews the myth with apposite complexity and feeling.

Currently a Ph.D. student in eighteenth-century British literature at the University of Texas at Austin Beutner has provided a well-researched account of Mycenaean Greek life. Alcestiss surroundings and rituals are rendered in detail. Her contemporariesmortals and gods alikeare vibrantly animated. Alcestis lives in a time when Narcissus is a subject of gossip passed in the kitchen and Beutner seems to have fully stepped into this era herself.

Like the other Greek characters in the novels cast the eponymous heroine is transformed from symbol to living soul. Alcestis lives and dies with ambivalences and self-interest. She negotiates a world of the living that requires her silence...

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