By Stacey Swann
In her essay “Notes on Writing a Novel,” Elizabeth Bowen declares, “Nothing can happen nowhere.” This alliterative mantra, directly apparent and sensible, reminds writers that they want a someplace for the drama to unfold, be it a mansion’s lobby or the floor of the moon. Luckily for Stacey Swann, her interesting debut novel, “Olympus, Texas,” has loads of someplace for its forged of memorable characters to enact their shows of affection, lust, rage and resentment.
The guide is known as after a city east of Houston, which “settled at a population of 2,000 and stuck there.” Most of the novel’s gamers have been sired by Peter Briscoe, a neighborhood actual property magnate who rents to a lot of its residents. For the Briscoe clan, Olympus — with the acquainted curves and sounds of the Brazos River, in addition to smoke-stink bars and pervasive gossip — has formed and misshaped them. Kind of like household itself.
When the novel opens, Peter’s second son, March, has returned after a two-and-a-half-year self-imposed exile, penance for sleeping along with his brother’s spouse, Vera. Another son, Arlo, has additionally simply ridden in; he’s returned from his nation music tour to be taught that his twin sister, Artie (sure, their related names are complicated), has fallen for a person whose mom nonetheless blames Peter for the lack of her household farm many years prior. Artie and Arlo are the product of an affair Peter had earlier than March was born; this wasn’t Peter’s first affair, and it wasn’t his first to end in a being pregnant, both. As Peter’s spouse, June, notes: “Peter is a man who loves with deliberation, but his lust is not so orderly.”
What happens over the course of the following 300 or so pages, together with multiple bodily combat, a few illicit romances and a tragic dying, performs out in opposition to the backdrop of this city. Arlo tells Artie, “No secrets in Olympus,” and but there’s a surplus of buried harm and unstated disappointments inside the Briscoe household. It could also be tough for these characters to comprehend their flaws and tangled needs, but it surely certain is pleasurable to examine them.
Although the guide takes place over simply six days, occasional interludes present wealthy portraits of a personality’s historical past: “The Origin of March’s Rages” is one, and “The Origin of Vera’s Broken Heart” is one other. In these sections, Swann condenses a personality’s brambly ache right into a self-contained again story that’s concurrently temporary and sophisticated — a delusion, if you’ll. Mythology allusions are sprinkled all through the textual content: the city’s title, for example, and the names of March’s canines, Romulus and Remus. Even the native burlesque membership is known as Terpsichore’s — although most residents name it the Sickery, a much better title. Over all, the mythological lens feels inoffensive however pointless; more often than not it made me marvel why extra characters weren’t conscious of the allusions.
Swann’s novel is most profitable at its violent, stunning turning level. I received’t dare to present it away. I learn with out respiratory — OK, possibly I gasped — and I skilled the characters’ grief and remorse as in the event that they have been my very own. However, as soon as the narrative moved previous this climactic occasion, it too usually relied on confessional or confrontational dialogue to do its dramatic work. The city of Olympus pale into the background, and the story felt a bit inert.
Not that this saved me from turning its pages and discovering pleasure in its revelations, as when Peter’s brother Hayden remarks, “I guess I understand how one action can lead to things you never imagined, how you can always second-guess yourself about different choices you might have made.”
I may have stayed on this specific someplace for a protracted whereas.