Knopf, October, 2002.
Hardcover, 176 pages.
Stephanie Spinner has gone to that timeless repository of great plots, the Greek myths, and with thorough scholarship created a tale that plunges us into that fascinating time, prehistoric Greece. The brutality of the age is immediately impressed on the reader in the first chapters which deal with the ferocity and inherent danger of a boar hunt. Through the vehicle of the boar hunt, Ms. Spinner acquaints the reader with the attitudes and general frame of reference of those early Greeks. The shock of the brutality of a hunt that uses only bronze age weapons immerses the reader in a culture that has worked out rational reasons for the vicissitudes of daily life and come to terms with them.
Atalanta suffered the fate of many of the unwanted babies of primitive cultures. She was abandoned in the forest to be devoured by whatever wild animal might care to have an easy meal. But the ancient Greeks firmly believed that the gods were involved in their everyday affairs and that the gods, for their own personal whims, cause things to happen to mortals. In the case of Atalanta, the belief was that Artemis, goddess of the hunt sent a she-bear to nurse the poor abandoned infant and protect her. Gratefully Atalanta decided to devote her life to Artemis.
Ms. Spinner artfully uses the device of inserting the conversations of the gods about what is going on in the world of mortals. The reader is then able to understand the peculiar attitude that the ancient Greeks had about life and one's fate. One can understand that the gods were rarely admirable, but always powerful and subject to the same petty motivations that regular mortals felt.
Atalanta's fame grows, but that brings more problems. When strangers on horseback arrive to take Atalanta back to the kingdom of the father who had ordered her to be abandoned, Atalanta has no choice but to obey. But when she discovers that the old king has no son and that he wants Atalanta to marry so she can produce an heir, Atalanta is dismayed. She has promised Artemis that she will never marry. Atalanta thinks that she has a solution. She will marry only the suitor who can beat her in a foot race, but any suitor who loses will be put to death. Atalanta wrongly believes that no suitors will show up, but she is greatly mistaken. Of course the gods intervene and Atalanta is tricked into losing a race due to some golden apples that her suitor, Hippomenes kept throwing in front of her. The well-known story draws to a close with a sudden shocking ending.
Ms. Spinner's skillful writing fills out the ancient myth and makes prehistoric Greece accessible to young readers. Using the device of the petty selfishness of the gods allows the author to make some believable comments on life and the seeming illogical happenings in people's lives. Quiver is an excellent retelling of a classic tale.
--Sarah Reaves White
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This review was published in the February, 2003 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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