Book: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Casey McKinney


Zachary Mason’s first novel is a work of some detached genius, really a series of vignettes and imaginative retellings, reinterpretations, and reimaginings of the story of Odysseus, wrapped up and masked as a novel. The stories are not limited to the “lost books” of the Odyssey, the essence of which Mason states in the preface are a translation of papyrus comprising “44 concise variations on Odysseus’ story that omit stock epic formulae in favor of honing a single trope or image down to an extreme of clarity,” but rather explore the fates of Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon, and Polyphemus the Cyclops, the story in which Odysseus is portrayed as nothing more than a crook and low-rent deceiver who takes advantage of an otherwise, after some initial misunderstanding, gracious host. In “The Iliad of Odysseus,” Mason turns the hero into a bard, a feeble man talented at archery but useless at a soldier’s close combat, instead slinking away during the apex of battle, inventing lies about himself as a hero along the countryside until the songs he invents eventually return to him. It’s a short novel, but Mason’s work is well worth the time. -MKL