The action is gory and the monsters colorful, especially the dragon ... The Mere Wife brings the story into the 21st century in a curious way ... Headley’s jabs at suburban smugness are fun ... Headley’s prose can be stark, lacerating, insightful ('If events don’t make sense, a story grows to cover up the confusion'), but it also has its over-the-top lapses ... But the role reversals Headley devises — and the way she adapts an ancient tale into a 21st-century struggle between haves and have-nots, brown-skinned and white, damaged and intact — are largely effective. Genuine wisdom sometimes emerges.
Headley’s prose is as fluid and florid as Old English was guttural. Headley never shies away from violence or horror, but she shatters it into the tiny shards we experience...flashes of pain and moments of joy. When a character is overwhelmed or disoriented, so are you, the reader. When she means to put you behind a character’s eyes, that’s where you are ... The book shifts tone constantly, so at times you’re reading a satire that turns into an adventure novel that veers left into horror that can, at times, feel almost romantic. But the majority of the book is dedicated to a critique of suburban culture—specifically the way a particular type of class-obsessed suburbia can suck all the meaning out of a woman’s life ... I love a book that asks more questions than it answers. I love a book that wrestles me, and makes me think about it after I’ve finished it. If you enjoy battling monsters, I can’t recommend this book enough.
Her modern-day reimagining of Beowulf is the most surprising novel I’ve read this year. It’s a bloody parody of suburban sanctimony and a feminist revision of macho heroism. In this brash appropriation of the Anglo-Saxon epic, Headley swoops from comedy to tragedy, from the drama of brunch to the horrors of war ... One of the great pleasures of this novel is how cleverly and unpredictably Headley translates the actions of upper-class life into the sweep and gore of Beowulf ... But this is no mock heroic — or not merely a mock heroic. In her own destabilizing way, Headley vacillates between a wicked parody of privileged families and a tragic tale of their forgotten counterparts ... Headley is the most fearsome warrior here, lunging and pivoting between ancient and modern realms, skewering class prejudices, defending the helpless and venturing into the dark crevices of our shameful fears. Someday The Mere Wife may take its place alongside such feminist classics as The Wide Sargasso Sea because in its own wicked and wickedly funny way it’s just as insightful about how we make and kill our monsters.
Imagine the centaur-like hybrid of a Middle Ages warrior saga and a slow-burning drama of domestic ennui and you begin to get a sense of this spiky, arresting story ... Readers will find it helpful to bone up on Beowulf before embarking on The Mere Wife to catch the ways in which Ms. Headley borrows from the poem’s rhythm and language while altering its narrative to throw light on the distaff side of the dramatis personae. But while the novel plays ingeniously with its ancient source, its modern aspects are over-reliant on hackneyed stereotypes about white-bread suburbia. There’s too much of the Stepford Wives in Willa. 'This isn’t supposed to happen here,' she simpers about the barbarians at the gated community. Ms. Headley’s domestic goddess is more fantastical and unreal than her underground monsters. The idea may be to make us rethink our sympathies. In that case, her story succeeds.
Headley, who also is working on a new translation of Beowulf, subverts the epic by exploring its good-versus-evil battle from the perspective of women who were largely left on the margins by the ancient bards ... The hero is supposed to be local police officer Ben Woolf. The bards already covered his heroics, so Headley cleverly reflects on his shortcomings ... You don’t have to remember Beowulf to get what Headley is saying here: a monster lives in every mirror, and every enemy is someone else’s hero.
In language brutal, elegant and as consequential as a sniper’s precision, constructing a drama that is no less fateful and tragic than the original, Headley abstracts from Beowulf many of its classic motifs and characters and plot points, but uses them to illuminate themes and conflicts vastly different from the Dark Ages concerns of the original. Nonetheless, an emotional and intellectual resonance comes to exists between the ur-text and the modern version ... Headley delivers a drama along those very lines, turning Beowulf‘s portrayal of allied noble houses and a team of equals menaced by almost cosmic irrationality into a parable of twenty-first century social and economic inequality ... The Mere Wife is a boldly conceived work that can stand proudly on the bookshelf next to its inspiration.
...Headley imbues The Mere Wife with the trappings of myth, from a deadly sword to a disembodied arm, from a dragon to a pack of formidable mothers. Fantasy and realism mix in an ambiguous, audacious genre-bender. The Mere Wife is a sly satire of suburbia, wittily detailed and narratively bold. Above all, Headley’s novel, with its roots in ancient legend, proves especially relevant in this time of heightened fear of the Other.
The Mere Wife is an eerie, twisty retelling of Beowulf that is built around doubles: Everyone in Beowulf is mirrored and reimagined over and over again, until everyone—the monster, his mother, Beowulf himself—shatters into fragments of themselves ... It’s the two women who hold the place of Grendel’s mother: Gren’s mother Dana and Dylan’s mother Willa. They are the ones at the center of this story, and their battle is what carries the book to its climactic conclusion ... . Headley remains artfully vague about what it is about Gren that makes those who look at him think that he’s a monster ... The glossary reveals that in Beowulf’s original Old English, Beowulf is referred to as an 'aglæca,' traditionally translated as warrior or soldier. Grendel’s mother, however, gets the feminine form of the word, with 'wif' at the end: 'aglæca-wif,' traditionally translated as monster or hell-bride. In our culture, the mere addition of the feminine suffix 'wife,' Headley seems to suggest, is all that it takes to turn a soldier into a monster.
... electric ... The Mere Wife delights on its own terms. Readers with little knowledge of the urtext will still find much to enjoy in Headley’s story of picture-perfect suburbia turned into a battleground ablaze with fear and recrimination. It’s a tale of social inequality, anxieties of otherness and violence born of ignorance ... ambiguity fuels the questions that lie at the heart of the novel: how are monsters made, and by whom?
More than a modernized retelling of Beowulf, The Mere Wife is the result of a deconstruction of the text that was followed by a reconstruction in which Headley keeps the basic elements and adds many new ones to instill new life into the old narrative ... The modernization allows the novel to resonate with readers without moving away from its source ... Alongside adding new elements, Headley takes the story to a difference place and that allows her to make sharp critiques of things like the lingering obsession with keeping people from diverging socioeconomic backgrounds separate ... Perhaps the most interesting element in The Mere Wife is the positioning of women because it is diametrically opposed to the patriarchal society so evident in Beowulf ... The Mere Wife is multilayered and nuanced. It can be read as an entertaining reimagining of a classic text, but it can also offer interested readers hours of deep thought while analyzing all its subtexts ... Ultimately, The Mere Wife goes beyond Beowulf to become a narrative that offers a bold look at American suburbia while exploring the power of women in society.
The Mere Wife brings new life to a classic ... Knowledge of the classic poem is not essential before reading The Mere Wife. The novel stands on its own as both an adventure tale and a social commentary. But a passing familiarity with the original, even a faint memory from a high school English class, illuminates detail that brings texture and layers to the story ... Headley plays with language as much as she plays with the plot of the epic poem ... The Mere Wife paints an acerbic view of contemporary society.
As with any mythically or allegorically driven novel, the plot becomes fantastical when grafted onto modern tropes. Nevertheless, Headley's heroic prose and vivid imagery offers thought-provoking correlations between ancient themes and recent historical events. Its emphasis on feminist power gives an old tale renewed significance.
... muscular, bloodthirsty ... Headley hits the beats of the original story while shifting the focus entirely ... The question rippling through Headley’s ambitious novel is why we need to cast anyone as a monster at all.
Headley’s...fourth novel is a stunner: a darkly electric reinterpretation of Beowulf that upends its Old English framework to comment on the nature of heroes and how we 'other' those different from ourselves. It deftly interweaves a host of contemporary themes, from racial tensions to veterans’ reintegration, political corruption, and female power ... A strange tale told with sharp poetic imagery and mythic fervor, Headley’s novel prompts examination of how people create or become monsters.
Headley, a writer of juvenile fiction (Aerie, 2016, etc.) and fantasy, steps into the adult world with this spot-on reimagining of a classic of Old English literature ... There’s not a false note in this retelling, which does the Beowulf poet and his spear-Danes proud.
Headley...applies the broad contours of the Beowulf story to her tale but skillfully seeds her novel with reflections on anxieties and neuroses that speak to the concerns of modern parenting. Her narrative leaps between grisly incidents of violence and touching moments of motherly love that turn her tale’s source material inside out and situate it in a recognizable modern landscape where, as Ben accepts, 'the world isn’t large enough for monsters and heroes at once.'