A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 at Lit Hub
"More than thirty women from Ovid’s Metamorphoses . . . reclaim their stories in this stirring collection of vignettes. The women of MacLaughlin’s retelling drink kombucha, dabble in oxycodone, wear jeans and sneakers, and call the King of Thebes “this asshole jock.” Above all, they both suffer and find strength at the hands of lascivious men and wrathful gods."
—The New Yorker
“Old myths translated into bright and glorious colors. I loved this.”
—Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble
"Wake, Siren manages to feel uniquely close to Metamorphoses while recasting it totally—a real feat of writing . . . MacLaughlin’s words feel additive, creative, something good pulled from difficult source material. Her stories about rape are complicated and multidimensional, avoiding the flatness that can come with stories we think we already know . . . Wake, Siren is a powerful artistic answer to a question of our time: What are we supposed to do with all these myths that take rape as their starting point?"
—Sophie Haigney, The Nation
“Nina MacLaughlin has done something audacious. She has invited the female characters in Ovid—daughter, mother, sister, wife, widow, queen, nymph, maenad, monster, even the blind seer Tiresias—to sing through her, and now we know how it feels to be stalked by Polyphemus, to be raped by Neptune, to be pregnant with Hercules, to be transformed into a reed, a cow, a fountain, a spider, a constellation. Wake, Siren is a stunning and sustained performance, in language bold and lyrical, direct yet sensual, and loaded with natural beauty.”
—Mary Norris, author of Greek to Me
"Provocative reinterpretations of some very old stories . . . [Nina MacLaughlin] sets herself apart is by focusing on female characters, many of them less well known to a contemporary audience . . . MacLaughlin succeeds in making these stories fresh and distinct by allowing her protagonists to speak in their own voices. Vital, vivid, and angry."
—Kirkus, starred review
"MacLaughlin skillfully elevates what could have been merely a writerly exercise, instead composing a chorus of women's justifiable rage echoing down through the millennia."
"Venture back into myth, to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to hear from the seductresses, the nymphs, and the goddesses. Finally."
—Katie Yee, Lit Hub
“Wake, Siren is by turns sensual and searing, a gorgeous book that completely enthralls its readers. Each page is a revelation, and their combined effect is a stunning and welcomed new perspective on Ovid’s myths. Nina MacLaughlin’s vision approaches clairvoyance and her voice is powerful, provocative, and, at this moment in history, undeniably necessary.”
—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
"Wake, Siren is the book I’ve been waiting for since I was ten years old and reading The D’Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. Savage, cheeky, incisively aware of the social-domestic-economical-political thorninesses that prick (and mortally or immortally wound) interactions between power unequals, MacLaughlin opens a pressure valve that’s been sealed shut for centuries. With Wake, Siren, MacLaughlin proves she is a writer of unparalleled versatility, formal daring, and political imagination."
—Heidi Julavits, author of The Folded Clock
“Ever since I first read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I’ve been waiting to hear from the sirens, goddesses, and nymphs in its pages. Nina MacLaughlin has granted my wish, in electric prose both modern and ancient, giving voice to the victims and villains whose only crime often was being female. Wake, Siren is a must-read for anyone who grew up reading myth but identified with the monsters.”
—Amber Sparks, author of The Unfinished World
“Nina MacLaughlin’s first book taught me how to successfully grade a tile shower floor, and now she’s gone and reimagined Ovid’s mythical women, insinuating the rage of our contemporary moment into stories freshly alive with rumblings of gender and power. Weird, often hilarious, and consistently beautiful, Wake, Siren offers portraits of the likes of Medusa, Callisto, and Sibyl, but above all, it provides a breathless look inside a razor-sharp mind.”
—Kristen Radtke, author of Imagine Wanting Only This
“Wake, Siren is ferocious and fun, full of tenderness and bravado. Nina MacLaughlin's curiosity and imagination will drive you back to ancient texts (or at least to Wikipedia), and make you look at literature differently, imagining what else could be transformed by the voices of women, speaking for themselves.”
—Meaghan O’Connell, author of And Now We Have Everything
In this modern feminist retelling of Ovid's Metamorphoses, itself a Latin retelling of ancient Greek myths, MacLaughlin (Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter) relies on Allen Mandelbaum's 1993 English translation for source material. If any canonical tales cry out to be told from a woman's perspective, it is certainly these myths, many of which revolve around rape or attempted rape. Several seem to be set in modern times, with references to the minutiae of everyday life—bus stops, 7–11, cell phones, movies, yoga classes—yet the gods of Mt. Olympus are still themselves, in all their flawed glory. These flashes of modernity can be jarring, momentarily taking the reader out of the story, but the choice makes sense, as the myths are meant to represent eternal truths. We are reminded that human nature doesn't change and that we tell the same stories over and over again in different settings with updated technologies, from the oral tradition to email exchanges. That these tales are still part of our cultural imagination speaks to their timelessness and enduring power. VERDICT Though some of the stories feel overly experimental and some retellings work better than others, this reenvisioning of Ovid's immortal work offers passages of unforgettable beauty and much strength in the voices of women trying to become themselves.—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Provocative reinterpretations of some very old stories.
MacLaughlin was a classics major before she began a career working with wood, so anyone who read her memoir, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter (2015), may remember the occasional quotation from Ovid. In this collection of stories, she finds her main subjects in the Roman poet's Metamorphoses. MacLaughlin has set herself a considerable challenge. Ovid was writing about 2,000 years ago, and people have been translating and riffing on his poems—which were, themselves, based on well-known myths—ever since. Of course, the fact that artists continue to find inspiration in Daedalus and Icarus and Hercules and the Fall of Troy is testament to their power and mutability, but this means that MacLaughlin is inviting comparison to everyone from Homer to Walt Disney Studios. One way she sets herself apart is by focusing on female characters, many of them less well known to a contemporary audience. This choice creates its own challenge, though, in that so many of these stories are about rape. MacLaughlin succeeds in making these stories fresh and distinct by allowing her protagonists to speak in their own voices. This creates stylistic variety across stories, but it also makes a powerful point. In so many of these tales, a human woman or wood nymph or other female who attracts the attention of a lustful god or an angry goddess is turned into an inanimate object or dumb beast. She literally loses her voice. Indeed, even when these heroines can speak, the patriarchal culture in which they live robs their words of meaning. Io says "No" to Jove, but she finds that the language she knows no longer has any power. The sounds she makes are no more meaningful than the lowing of the white cow she will become. Some of these stories have distinctly modern touches—Galatea faints at a 7-Eleven because she's been on a fasting cleanse—but these moments only reinforce a sense of timelessness. There have always been men who will not hear when women speak.
Vital, vivid, and angry.