by Grant Buday
Biblioasis, 2008; 165 pp; $19.95
I suppose the big question any reader has when presented with a new account of Odysseus’ inspired trickery and Troy’s ultimate downfall is “why bother?” After all, it’s not as if that ancient wooden nag hasn’t been saddled innumerable times before. And by some pretty heavyweight talents too—there’s Chapman’s classic translation of course, and Alexander Pope’s. Samuel Butler took a swing at the epic tale, as have a couple of hundred other writers over the last few centuries.
The thing about the Illiad though, and it shares this trait with most of the going-to-get-to-someday classics skulking unread on my bookshelves (Moby Dick and the Bible spring immediately to mind), is that it’s a work mostly enjoyed at a far remove. The more Catholic the interpretation, the less engaging this Ur-story becomes as it slides into the gully of dead history, dusty poesy and dull references too obscure to warrant even a lazy search on Wikipedia.
The genius of Dragonflies—local writer Grant Buday’s take on the Trojan Horse—is that Buday imbues Homer’s epic with an essential humanity usually lacking in the strictest adaptations. His novel Odysseus is pitch-perfect: a fully realized and rounded character who’s not only the sly and cynical survivor we’ve come to expect, but also embodies extra dimensions of uncertainty, patient love, and a sick despair bred by the cruelties of fate, gods and men. This thoroughly modern Odysseus doesn’t doubt the existence of ancient deities. He just happens to hate them too.
The exacting verisimilitude of personality that Buday conjures up for each his of characters, both major and minor, extends to the setting of his novel. Everywhere, his Achaean world sparkles with telling detail: the sun-stoked “throb” of Troy’s walls mocking the rotting army below; the gnarled scars and maiming wounds crisscrossing the bodies of his aging and not-so-mythical heroes; the camp-follower whores’ ill-bred offspring, “slimy nosed and filthy-fingered.” There’s even the ear-hair of Oddyseus’s father, Laertes, straggly and stinking of wax.
The considerable force of a well-informed imagination is fully evident here, and Buday’s economical style always gives just enough to keep this fast-paced story going to its inevitable—yet somehow suspenseful —conclusion.
In short, Dragonflies is a grand tale recounted by a superb storyteller. What more could you possibly want?Back to top