By: Richard Matturro
Reviewed by: R. Garth
Livingston Press, 2008
$26, Hardcover; $15.95 Paperback
Richard Matturro has produced an interesting novel in his latest, Leslie. Interesting in that it combines Greek and Roman allusions surrounding the life of a forty-three-year-old librarian heading out for her own “Odyssey” from “Troy” with her dog “Argos.” Homer might not be amused, but his beautiful marriage quote (Odyssey VI, 180-185) is cryptically (written in Greek) paid respect to in the novel’s opening. Leslie is Matturro’s third novel and the second of a trilogy; it stands, however, well on its own.
The opening sentence, “Hemlock will do,” invites the reader to delve into Leslie’s world. Matturro’s protagonist leads us into her depression and her yearning to find the little girl inside her that she once knew. Her dissatisfaction with life is carried over to mostly male characters: Karl, the ever-ready but not-quite-right single man; Jeff, a mentally unbalanced Shakespeare scholar; Steve, an unhappily (and uncircumcised) married one night stand; and Martin, the enigmatic grail of her quest. The female characters are more solid, save for Claire, Steve’s sad wife, and Irene, Leslie’s sister and antagonist in the age-old battle over whether a woman’s life is empty without children. Odysseus versus the Cyclops (Irene wears an eye patch in the scene). Her mother is a minor character, while Sibyl, her aunt, plays the major role of mentor and savior. Her friend Sheila represents the dependable, content, but boring side of life Leslie must avoid as to not be swallowed up in mediocrity. Sibyl is her “sibyl,” giving the dream to chase.
The novel spends much time getting the “odyssey” underway, but when it does start rolling, the reader is eager to reach Ithaca and see if Odysseus, I mean Leslie, will find happiness. Moments occur when the reader is actually going to feel a tear well up, but these are returned with stilted dialogue, mistakes in the subjunctive voice, and a feeling that “Leslie” is simply the author in drag.
Matturro is an excellent wordsmith at times, as when Leslie finds a picture of her namesake: “…she exists only as a ghost, an unchanging image looking out from the graying old photograph and whispering of the futility and hopelessness of life.” Not The Odyssey of our time, but worthy of a beach read.
R. Garth, author of Tales from Blue Springs: The Hatchet Woman, teaches English and mythology in Athens, Alabama.