Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann: Divinely dysfunctional

Cover image for Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann Back from Sussex (more of that next week) with Stacey Swann’s reworking of Classical myth, Olympus, Texas, which came with a persuasively thumping endorsement from Richard Russo. Set in the titular small town, Swann’s debut sees the supremely dysfunctional Briscoes brought face-to-face with some harsh facts when two of its members are caught up in a tragic accident.

She preferred to hang out with her friends at their houses. Living in Olympus felt, to her, like living on a stage. Why would she want to bring anyone behind the curtain, too?  

The Briscoes are the kingpins of Olympus where everyone knows everyone else’s business in the manner of small town life. Their son, March, has returned from two years exile in New Mexico after an affair with his brother’s wife. Hap is still furious but Vera is no longer interested in March having used him as a way out of her marriage to the man she’d misjudged, thinking him decent enough to have seen beyond the beauty that defines her for most. Neither brother has much of a role model for marriage in their parents, their mother still consumed with anger about their father’s infidelities – Peter has six children, only three of them June’s. Things look set for a difficult re-entry for March until the family’s focus shifts dramatically to Peter’s twins after a shooting which leaves one man dead and both twins’ lives changed irrevocably. Over the next few days, reckonings will be made, reconciliations tentatively begun, home truths told and a few characters redeemed.

People think that love is good in and of itself. Stupid, really. When does it ever work out like that in real life?

Swann’s novel plays out over a tumultuous week in the lives of the Briscoes, shifting perspectives between characters, helpfully interweaving brief sections explaining the various characters’ fury and grievances, and there’s a great deal of that in this family. Swann handles her myth device lightly. I’m not a classicist but the main characters are easily identifiable and those better educated than me might have fun identifying the rest. It’s all subtly done reminding me of Jane Smiley’s take on King Lear, A Thousand Acres. Swann’s story is replete with satisfying dark secrets, shocking revelations, messy relationships with knobs on, and there are lots of men behaving badly in one way or another. An absorbing novel, a tragicomedy at times, which cleverly emphasises the universality of its themes, it lived up to that glowing Russo puff for me.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London 9781474612425 336 pages Hardback

18 thoughts on “Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann: Divinely dysfunctional”

  1. Good review. I read Thousand Acres-it was one of the first “dysfunction” books I read and remember it very well. I am stuck by the totally different covers this book earned in UK vs US. Too me all that green looks like the Midwest, not Texas but I know its an enormous state with a lot of differences. Here’s a link to the American cover https://www.amazon.com/Olympus-Texas-Novel-Stacey-Swann-ebook/dp/B08FZML9X1/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Olympus+texas&qid=1625865272&sr=8-1

  2. I have to admit that modern-day reworkings of classical Greek myths are not normally my thing; nevertheless, this does sound very good indeed! I do love a setting where everyone knows everyone else’s business as it tends to offer so much potential for tension. A very promising debut, by the sound of things…

  3. I got a bit tired of so many reworked myth novels a few years ago, but this does sound good and as you say, handled lightly. I also really enjoy Russo, so that is a tempting puff!

  4. “messy relationships with knobs on” would make a wonderful cover blurb. So much more appealing than the ubiquitous “superb” 🙂
    That cover doesn’t shout Texas to me either – it’s a very dry climate so what’s with all the greenery?

  5. The Russo endorsement would have caught my attention too. He also celebrated Sue Miller’s Monogamy! (which I’ve yet to read myself)

  6. Pingback: Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann – Blog Tour – Annabookbel

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