Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #19: Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse is strange and very beautiful in both form and content. Based on the myth of Geryon, a red monster with a red dog murdered by Herakles (Hercules) as one of his twelve labours, Red melds the ancient and modern in its story of a red boy with wings growing with difficulty into a gay man in presumably the late twentieth century. One version of the myth was recounted by Stesichoros, an ancient Greek poet whose work survives only in fragments. According to legend, Stesichoros was blinded by Helen of Troy for calling her a whore; Classics professor/poet Carson incorporates this legend and Stesichoros’s fragments into a meta-story that comments on how myth and legend are created and consumed. Her translations are quirky but evocative in a way that gives you more of an emotional sense or image rather than a direct retelling.
I don’t want to say too much about Geryon the monster-boy’s story as part of its appeal is its surprises. It’s definitely one for grown-ups – an incident of abuse and adolescent sexual awakening and activity are recounted (not in explicit detail but you get what’s going on), and there is some violent imagery. It’s not all dark, though – there is humour in Red‘s observations on human behaviour and in the tangents and juxtapositions sketched in its narrative. Despite the work’s allusions to people like Emily Dickinson and its motifs of scientific and philosophical description and speculation, the verse is lucid and breathes a tenderness towards the heartbroken and sorrowful, those on the outside and those eternally bemused by other people and life itself.
“This was when Geryon liked to plan
his autobiography, in that blurred state
between awake and asleep when too many intake valves are open in the soul.” (60)
Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red. London: Jonathan Cape (Random House) 2010. Orig. pub. 1998. 149 pages.