I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
After two years away, March Briscoe is returning to his hometown, Olympus. He’d been essentially driven out after the revelation that he’d been sleeping with his brother’s wife. Now, his return sets off a chain reaction, bringing old grudges and complex feelings to the surface between various family members. Marriage bonds are tested, doubts and insecurities are explored, and an accident in the woods leads to a death. March, his siblings, and the rest of his family are forced to face the fact that their bonds of blood might take them all down.
Family drama isn’t usually a genre I gravitate toward, nor do I usually read stories about small rural towns. However, when I found out that this book and the characters within it are inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, I had to read it. I’m predictable that way, I guess.
I found a lot of the modernized versions of the characters’ names and identities were clever. Jupiter becomes the philandering Peter; Hades is turned into Hayden the undertaker; Artemis is now Artie the hunting guide; and so on. There was enough information to identify each character, but they were updated to suit the modern day American setting.
And it’s the characters that are really the heart of this story—the various ways they’re linked to each other, whether it’s by marriage or blood or friendship or a complex combination, relationships are the main element of the story. The way they’re portrayed and navigated is full of insight and drama. Swann is skilled at presenting the different sides to everything, giving each messy situation nuance and no easy answers. Even a serial cheater like Peter is given a perspective. The book doesn’t really take sides (even if the characters do) which gives the reader a chance to form her own opinion. And now, I’m of the opinion now more than ever, that the stories of the Olympians were stories not of gods, but of humans, fallible and flawed as any of us.
On the other hand, while this book really excels at presenting multifaceted interpersonal drama, I can’t say I was that fond of many of the characters. Artie was cool, and I was predisposed to like Arlo thanks to Rick Riordan forever endearing the god Apollo to me, but it seems like every character frustrated me at one point. I finished not feeling that attached to any of them.
Moreover, I wanted a bit more resolution. There were definitely conclusions to each character’s arc, but I felt like some aspects were lacking. I wanted to know, for instance, how Hap ended up, if Arlo’s career survived, and so on. I just felt like there could have been a bit more in the last fifty pages or so to bring everything to a satisfactory end, for me. (On a slightly unrelated note, I also wish I’d gotten a lot more Hayden content, and in related news, I need to listen to Hadestown again.)
In the end, though, Olympus, Texas was a good read for me, if a slightly unusual one. The characters are fully realized, while not the most sympathetic set of people. The story that unfolds as they come back together as a group and face various problems is well written and asks questions that have no easy answers. The writing is overall excellent, describing settings and emotions with skill. It isn’t the greatest novel I’ve ever read, and some aspects I found unsatisfying, but I definitely think Swann is a promising debut author.
Overall rating: 7.9/10
Olympus, Texas will be published on May 4th, 2021!