Unlike Ovid, Mason seems less interested in merely recounting stories than in getting inside the heads of the mythological figures themselves. Hence, the chief power, mystery, and resonance of many of these tales comes from their first-person perspective ... We witness the transformation of Arachne into a spider, a familiar story which, in Mason’s hands, becomes something fresh and exciting ... The freshness of Mason’s fictions comes from the jubilant disregard they have for the nuts and bolts of the myths themselves ... Many of the stories in Metamorphica seem just as much a tribute to these twentieth-century storytellers as they do to Ovid ... while we will never sound the death knell of Ovid’s masterpiece, we do have, in Mason’s work, a bold new creature and a brilliant feat of literary imagination.
Like the ancient texts he is inspired by, Mason humanizes each figure, whether godly or mortal ... some familiarity with these myths is helpful, particularly in order to appreciate his changes. A fractured, multilayered text reminiscent of Alan Lightman’s classic Einstein’s Dreams (1992) and similar to Madeline Miller’s similarly themed Song of Achilles (2012), Mason’s novel is written in beautiful prose that almost reads like blank verse. Mason once again displays his ability to transform classical creations into a tale that is distinctly his own.
The title of his new work, Metamorphica, nods to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Ovid bookends the collection ... Mason’s central theme: Where we may expect to find meaning, there is none. The lesson can feel profound or sophomoric, depending on how much patience you have for this kind of thing ... Mason takes the memorable female characters of classical myth—goddesses, prophets, rape victims, noble heroines, killers of family members, witches, Amazons, adulteresses and athletes—and turns them into ciphers ... he also reduces female agency to more or less nothing ... Mason’s male characters live almost equally meaningless lives ... Zeus is a serial rapist, and Mason provides disturbingly lyrical descriptions of his abusive pleasure ... The Greek myths, in Mason’s hands, are...a vast set of items to collect and catalog, offering glimpses of a pattern, and a bleakly comforting escape from the world of feelings and human beings.