Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bright Air Black - Modern Medea

In the acknowledgements of his latest novel, David Vann declares: “I’m a neoclassical writer. My novels are all Greek tragedies.” 

Bright Air Black is Vann’s biggest Greek tragedy to date, primarily because it is a retelling of an ancient tale, a retouched portrait of one of mythology’s most enthralling and notorious women, Medea.

Vann’s reimagining is not for the faint-hearted. Some will wonder if he oversteps the mark. Others will question the point of the whole enterprise. Why bother with a book which takes, blends and repurposes episodes from Apollonius of Rhodes’ The Argonautica and Euripides’ Medea when we can read those original works?

The answer becomes clear several pages into Bright Air Black. Vann gives us a fresh slant on an early myth, an up-close and in-depth character study. From the outset, his drama unfolds in prose that is both atmospheric and electrifying.

Maria Callas as Medea
Bookended with blood and providing no catharsis or easy answers, Medea’s story is one of the bleakest of all the Greek tragedies. Vann sums it up succinctly: “Unnatural, all that is human.” But the tale is also one of great power and intensity. Bright Air Black possesses the same potency. Its dark energy shocks us and shakes us, yet it is impossible to pull away.

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