In Christy Potter’s second novel, a retelling of The Bacchae colors the Greek tragedy in a manifestation of character’s that feel as though they are speaking directly to the reader in a wicked alteration of hushed glances and broad grins. Let me provide you with a brief plot summary of The Bacchae in case you aren’t familiar with the story.
The Bacchae tells of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus’ path of restoring the honor of his mother, Semele. Dionysus himself is the love child of Zeus and Semele, who has been renounced by Semele’s family as nothing but a horrible stain on Semele’s memory after Zeus kills her on accident with his own lightning bolt. The Bacchae drips with classic scandal and persuasion, but Dionysus is the embodiment of irresistibility. Greek mythology describes Dionysus as enchanting and the leader of an especially debaucherous cult. Without giving away too much of the classic story, let’s talk about why Christy Potter’s retelling is special.
We meet newspaper publisher Zachary Benton in the fervor of post-World War II, where news dominates the nation’s mood and dictates the hazy landscape of the future. Zachary has managed to expertly grasp the reigns of the newspaper business, but fumbles through his personal life where he lands in a cage of devoid of passion. Potter provides the reader with lyrical descriptions of Zachary’s journalistic power, but I was left feeling as if Zachary’s realness came from his instinct of survival. He marries cold, conniving socialite Hanna Whitcomb, and soon realizes his legacy may have called for the arrangement rather than his passion.
Potter lets us into Zachary’s psyche by Chapter 3, “Theirs was more of a partnership, a mutual support, a cool but solid friendship. Zachary liked having Hannah on his arm at New York society events, and Hanna enjoyed being Mrs. Zachary Benton, especially as his reputation grew.” But Zachary’s career minded life becomes shattered when in walks Sarah Thomas – pretty, talented, and having no business in the newspaper world of post-World War II where men still ruled the newsroom. Their love ignites immediately, and so does Sarah’s career. She wins a Pulitzer Prize and falls so readily into bed with Zachary, the reader must wonder if Zachary loves her because of his control over her career in addition to her sweet-sick devotion. Potter leaves this up to the audience, but the underlying wickedness reveals itself in the result of their union.
We do not meet the Dionysus of the novel until halfway through the book. Here is where Potter shows us her true shine as a writer. Zachary and Sarah’s love child, Dax, breaks into the scene with such command it’s almost as if Potter is saying, “Forget what you just read because this guy is about to change everything.” While the first part of the novel does leave a lasting impression, Dax’s perspective made me wonder if such a man could even exist and if he does would I even want to enter into the psychological minefield of worshipping this beautiful man?
Dax has no idea who he truly is. He has no idea whether his mother died in a car accident or if she fell off the Empire State Building. Dax does know two things: 1) He doesn’t want to be Zachary Benton but he does want to be as powerful as his father. 2) How to seduce women and make them like each other enough so he can sleep with them whenever he pleases.
Just like the greek Dionysus, Dax uses those two skills to redeem his place in the Benton family line. Potter turns the story so skillfully, I almost forgot about the rest of Dax’s family, about Hanna, about her plot to keep Dax away from the Benton legacy. When Dax’s smooth path to family inheritance is interrupted, he rallies his wine-laden, sex-hazed troops to bring the power of arrogance, sophistication, and control to take his seat at the head of an empire.
Christy Potter’s “The Bacchae: A Myth Retold” not only modernizes a classic tale, it brings relatable characters from the past to the forefront of humanity. Zachary and Sarah will do anything for each other, for love, for a home where they feel equal, but it is their unwillingness to accept societal terms that brings them down. Their son, Dax, uses the powers of ambition and manipulation to realign his fate, but leaves the reader wondering if lowering the moral high ground for the greater good was the option his parents hoped he would have chosen.
For more writing from Christy Potter:
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is a graduate of Flagler College with a BA in English Literature. Lauren spends a lot of time watching sports and reading novels while hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can follow her on Twitter.