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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Like Mayflies in the Stream

Like Mayflies in the Stream

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Hooray! Shauna Roberts's new novel, Like Mayflies in the Stream, has just become available for pre-order on Amazon.

The first of the Clarion 2009 graduates to publish a novel has done herself proud. I've read it. I love it. Go out and get it.

Shauna's novel is part of a Hadley Rille Books series of "archeologically-accurate novels about the daily lives of ancient people living and coping with significant crises." This one is based on the tale of Gilgamesh.

A word of confession, here: I've never read the Epic of Gilgamesh, except in summary form, and I had to look up the summaries to get an idea of how much Roberts has deviated from the original. Not much, it turns out. Like Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon and The Firebrand, or LeGuin in Lavinia, Roberts takes the essentials of the legend as a starting point, and goes from there. It's a wonderful question: what real events in the lives of real people could have inspired a story like this one? The result is stranger, sadder and sexier than the myth itself. I especially like how Roberts imagines Enkidu -- how he became who he is, why he behaves as he does.

Although we get glimpses into the minds of Gilgamesh and Enkidu themselves, the story is told primarily from the point of view of Shamhat, the woman sent to "tame" the wild man Enkidu. While various translations of the original suggest that Shamhat was a temple prostitute, Robert's archeological analysis suggests that that belief is an anachronism from the much later time when the Epic was composed. In Uruk at the time of the legend, Shamhat is more likely to have been a priestess of Inanna, and so she is in this novel.

It's fun to read stories told from alternative points of view. From Stoppard's Rozencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead to Bradley's two books mentioned above, we love to think that we're getting the "inside scoop," the part the party-line didn't tell us, and that's one of the joys of this book.

Another is the archeological project itself. The Mesopotamian world of this novel is so real you can taste it.

The characters are well-drawn and compelling, especially Shamhat, Gilgamesh, Enkidu and Zaidu, the hunter Shamhat meets on the way.

I knew that Shauna was a medical writer as well as an anthropologist before I read the novel, but it hadn't occurred to me how useful her medical knowledge would be in interpreting the Gilgamesh myth. I'll leave out explanations because they'd be spoilers, but suffice it to say that several things came into sharp focus because of physiological truths, never stated explicitly but clear as day.

All in all, this novel is a terrific read. I started it on the plane home from California, and couldn't put it down after I got home.
  • That is fantastic news! Terrific things happen to Clarion grads, don't you think? I hope someday we'll be seeing another grad with a book out. I'm really excited about that!

    I haven't read the book yet, but I'm going to check the public library to see if they purchased it yet.
  • *adds 'Like Mayflies in the Stream' to the 'must read one day' file*

    Thanks for the recommendation!!

    I think I read a comic book adaptation of the Gilgamesh epic a while ago, so maybe I can say I've perused a 'summary form' of it as well!? ;-)
  • So cool! Good for her! I'm sure your Clarion class will be well represented in print soon... starting with you. ;-)

    I read Gilgamesh again as I was working on The Hero, and found myself struck yet again by a) how boring epic heroes usually are, Odysseus notwithstanding (pages and pages of listing their accomplishments) and b) how ridiculous the portrayal of the women usually is. Shamat is such a bizarre plot-device of a character (like Lavinia in The Aeneid); I love the idea of making her the central character and bringing the world of the story and of the time to life through her eyes.

    And of course, I—like you—love the R&G aspect of the whole thing. (Did you know that I played Hamlet in R&G in college? I got to stand upstage and work on my audition monologues a lot.)

    Hmm. For a few years I've been kicking the idea of doing a rewrite of Ovid's Metamorphoses as a kind of YA metaphor for young adulthood. Maybe I'll have to dust that off again. ;-)
    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, David.

      I think there's really a lot of possibility in the "flip side" of great tales. Greg Maguire has sort of cornered that market for this decade, but what the heck...

      Definitely dust off your Ovid.
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