Ancient myth given modern take

By J. Peter Bergman
The Berkshire Eagle
July 18, 2010

Perseus by Richard Matturro
Livingston Press, 2010

Drawings by
Mary Trevor Thomas

The gods know everything. They just won’t tell us much in advance about what is going to happen to us. Still, they know. The god Hermes makes that very clear in Richard Matturro’s new novel, Perseus, based on the ancient legend of the mortal, or demi-mortal, who slew the Gorgon named Medusa, married the Princess named Andromeda and saved his mother, Danae, from a fate worse than death.

Matturro has spun a tale ripped from the headlines of ancient Greece and told in the jargon of only yesterday. His men, women, monsters and gods speak as though they were living down the street and could only express themselves as we do. The accessibility and clarity he gives to his characters in their modern voices is surprisingly enjoyable. Not a style I normally appreciate, it works wonderfully for this story of a boy, reticent by nature, challenged with a lack of communication skills, who slowly opens up to the possibility that he is special, created for a purpose by a God who might well have an agenda other than sexually copulating with a mortal.

Hermes is a major player in this book. He turns up in the oddest places and at the most unexpected times. Athena also puts in an appearance, but she only plays her role in  the most appropriate fashion. Zeus is a part of the story, but his role is in the past and she stays there.

The truly fascinating folks in this tale are the two principal women in Perseus’ life, his mother Danae whose fish-wife status is observable in her language, but whose classic beauty is exemplified by her lustful suitor, and Andromeda who makes the  most modern militant feminist seem like a college-girl goof-off by comparison. Surrounded as he is by these two strong women, it is amazing to find Perseus capable of anything, let along accomplishing the task he sets out to perform.

This very contemporary tale echoes legends of other countries and other cultures as well. Here the son is willing to sacrifice his own life to save his mother’s honor and possibly her life as well. There is a strong sense of the Oriental in this story, echoing the “One Who Says Yes,” a popular play from the Noh Theater.

Matturro ignores no details from the legend, but does alter the order of happenings to suit his novel. In short, punchy chapters, he incorporates legendary figures and the common man of this time, engaging them in casual conversations that ring true for being so stylistically accessible.

This modernization works well here, once you get used to it and it doesn’t take long. The author cleverly jars the reader in acceptance by allowing Hermes to quote Shakespeare and detail history centuries in the making. Once that takes place, there is nowhere to go except forward in a story that makes curious legend into solid facts.

This is a novel that turns the tide on myths and legends. A perfectly constructed story for which the author can take little credit becomes the solid wooden hanger on which the cloth of creative writing forms a solid shape. That shape is called Perseus, and he is disarmingly charming. This book is a repeater, one to read over again in a year or so and enjoy just as much the second time.