Bright Air Black by David Vann is a retelling of the myth of Medea, wife to Jason of Golden Fleece fame. It begins as Medea, Jason, and the Argonauts are fleeing from Medea’s home, leaving parts of her dismembered brother’s body in the water to distract her father. Throughout the book, we follow their journey, from fleeing her father to being enslaved and onwards to the chilling act completed by Medea at the end of her major myth. The story is told entirely from Medea’s third person present point of view.
What I liked the most about this novel was the prose. It’s beautiful. It flows like a poem, with all of the imagery associated with the medium. There are times of great gore and great suspense, but all are told with the same dreamy words. The story also recasts Medea, generally regarded as a villain, as a real woman with real dreams of power and freedom from her status as a woman in her society. She’s still not altogether likable, and her journey’s end is a bit rushed, but she’s very real, and much less of an enchantress and sorceress than myth makes her out to be. At times, I could sympathize with her, but she wasn’t my favorite character despite her strength and understandable yearnings.
All in all, the prose was pretty and the retelling was interesting, but something about this novel just did not work for me. I never really felt invested in the characters or their story. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of depth to anything, even though we do get a glimpse inside Medea’s psyche and grand plans. While this was likely by design, I just couldn’t get into it. Also, there’s a lot of divergence in time/scene, some abrupt cuts, and some stream of consciousness that got a wee bit confusing.
Overall, this novel was something I thought I would enjoy, but I didn’t. I couldn’t get invested in the story, nor did I feel strongly for any of the characters. The prose was beautiful, and I did enjoy that part of the book. I also enjoyed the take on Medea’s myth, even if I didn’t care for Medea herself. If you love myths, and are drawn to Medea, then I do recommend this book to you. If you love prose/poetry novels, then this book may also be of interest to you, even if I didn’t love it.
Note: I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair, honest review.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
What’s your favorite retelling of a myth? Will you read this one? Let me know in the comments below!