The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley is a retelling of Beowulf and a social critique of contemporary society. On many levels, it succeeds. Gated community residents label anyone who live outside their boundaries “monsters”.merewife

Dana and her ancestors have actually lived on the mountain long before it was turned into a high-end suburb.

After serving in the military, Dana returns to a cave and an abandoned railroad station. After nearly dying overseas, she awakes to find herself six months pregnant.

When he is born, Gren draws startled reactions. He is described as having fur and claws.

Wishing to protect him, Dana chooses to isolate him from the world. Gren accepts isolation, at first, and then grows weary of it.

Like Frankenstein’s monster, he yearns for what he cannot have–Herot Hall. For him, it all comes down to a piano and the boy who plays it, Dilly. They represent the outside world, the world that Dana has forbidden him to inhabit.

The reader can easily identify with Gren’s desire. The friendship between Gren and Dylan is breathtaking. The duality of Gren, his inability to fit in either world, is beautifully captured.

The unique narration and magic realism are startling beautiful.
The saint that follows Dana and who is known as “sorrow” is brilliantly rendered.

Without giving too much away, Headley orchestrates the ending perfectly. Dana destroys what has wrecked her life. She is a devoted mother who becomes monstrous in her devotion.

The novel which is about fierce motherhood, hearth and home will give book clubs much to discuss.