The Mere Wife – Maria Dahvana Headley

About the Book

Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf.

From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings—high and gabled—and the community is entirely self-sustaining. Each house has its own fireplace, each fireplace is fitted with a container of lighter fluid, and outside—in lawns and on playgrounds—wildflowers seed themselves in neat rows. But for those who live surreptitiously along Herot Hall’s periphery, the subdivision is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights.

For Willa, the wife of Roger Herot (heir of Herot Hall), life moves at a charmingly slow pace. She flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. Meanwhile, in a cave in the mountains just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren, short for Grendel, as well as his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren, but when she returned from war, there he was. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.

308 pages (hardcover
Published on July 17, 2018
Author’s webpage
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This book was a library loan. Yay libraries!

The Mere Wife is one of those books that took me forever to read. It’s not long. It’s actually quite short compared to other things I typically read, but man it took me FOREVER to get through it. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, in this case, it’s a mark in its favor. It is very rare that I come across a book that makes me stop every other paragraph because I have to sit back and just bask in the amazing wordsmithing.

The Mere Wife is an incredible book, telling the story of two different families, and two different women, mostly, living two very different lives that come together in some very unique, unpredictable ways. It starts with a bang, and a mystery, and ends with all the pieces falling together, maybe a bit too neatly.

This book is a retelling of Beowulf, which, to be honest, I know absolutely nothing about. Nothing. Zero. I don’t think I’ve ever read it, or seen it summarized, and I know that probably makes me look bad, but it’s true. So, that comparison is out there a lot, the fact that it’s a retelling is known and there are plenty of reviews out there discussing parallels and all that stuff. You won’t find any of that here. I read this book because I wanted to, and I kind of regret that I can’t compare it to the original story, but in the end, I’m reviewing this book based on its worth to me and not for any other reason.

So, with that out of the way, let me continue on.

The Mere Wife is a story that plays true on many different levels. It mainly tells the story of a very few people, a handful really, who were perspective characters. The first is Dana, who fought in some Middle East conflicts and came home mysteriously pregnant. On the other side, is Willa, a rich wife in the gated community of Herot Hall. Both women have a son, and both tries (with dubious success) to protect their sons.

Saying they come from opposite lives is, perhaps, the understatement of the year. Their sons connect, and their relationship grows throughout the book. Honestly, the sons finding each other was one of my favorite parts of the book, a truly sweet, and emotional note in a book full of intensity.

There’s a lot happening in these pages, and like I said above, on a lot of different levels. The thing is, there’s the plot, but then there are all these personal conflicts, evolutions, and developments. Some information is dropped with perfect precision throughout the novel, and some just unfold all the sudden. There’s the evolution of Willa, the perfect wife who lives the perfect life, but she’s also being smothered by it. There’s Dana, who lives in a cave (kind of?) with the bones of her family buried somewhere far below her, with a past that is just as mysterious as her present, and a son that doesn’t quite fit the mold. She’s, likewise, being smothered, by her circumstances.

There’s also a lot of love here, between the boys who stumble into an interesting friendship, between the mothers and their sons, between others who arise as the book progresses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the underlying issues of depression, self-medication, PTSD, and the like that are addressed and underscore so many important points in this novel. It’s important to see these issues in books, dealt with in the kind, considerate, realistic way that it’s dealt with here. It’s just part of who these people are, and it impacts them, their lives, the people around them, and damn I love seeing that.

But the intensity is there, and it underscores everything that happens, and the brilliant writing, the flawless way all these puzzle pieces fit together, the relentless forward motion of this train, is impossible to overlook.

There are a lot of reasons to read this book. The writing is amazing, and the plot is superb. That’s really all that matters. There are a few authors out there that make me think they found their calling in the world, and after reading this book, I absolutely think that the world is a better place with Maria Dahvana Headley writing books in it.


5/5 stars


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