”Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do and what they have to do.”
The thing with poetry books is that they always leave up a lot of things for interpretation. You cannot go into them expecting them to make a distinct point. Poetry meanders, comes back to its originals just to leave them again and to throw another question at your feet. It challenges and forces you to deal with everything that’s mentioned and hinted at. No, to read poetry is definitely no easy feat, yet I still love to do it every once in a while. It keeps me on my toes and causes me to think outside of the box and that’s always a good thing in my book.
”The red world And corresponding red breezes
Went on Geryon did not”
This said I really enjoyed reading “Autobiography of Red”. Carson has a unique way to tell her story and to follow Geryon’s character was extremely intriguing. It takes a while to get into the story but once you found the rhythm and flow of the tale you can’t help but wonder where it will take you. I found Carson’s choice to take Greek mythology and to put it into our modern world pretty impressive and bold. It’s a noteworthy choice and gave the entire story an edge I would have never been able to anticipate, yet the themes that are tackled could be found in ancient mythology as well.
”The world poured back and forth between their eyes once or twice.”
“Autobiography of Red” follows Geryon and his life on earth. In Greek mythology Geryon was a red winged monster that was slain by Herakles, in this poetry novel he’s a person who is trying to figure out his life and sexuality. There are many different topics that are tackled in this short book, sexual abuse, bullying, sexual identity and disfigurement just to mention some of them. If you read between the lines there are plenty of things to discuss, for instance the relationship between Geryon and Herakles as well as their relationship with Ancash a mutual friend.
„The effort it took to pull himself
away from Herakles‘ eyes
could have been measured on the scale devised by Richter.”
As I already said poetry leaves a lot of room for subjective interpretation but what I could gather from the story and how I interpret it is that Geryon is a very lonely person. His mother is affectionate but doesn’t know how to support her son. She’s not only unaware of the bullying at school but also doesn’t notice the ongoing sexual abuse by Geryon’s own brother. Geryon’s world is pretty dark and the atmosphere of the book makes sure to convey this feeling every step of the way. When Geryon meets Herakles and falls in love with him he begins to question his sexuality and this starts his process of finding himself. The relationship between Geryon and Herakles feels kind of toxic because even though their feelings seem to be mutual at first Herakles leaves him with a broken heart and this ultimately causes Geryon to fall into a depression.
„He saw the doorway
the house the night the world and
on the other side of the world somewhere Herakles laughing drinking getting into a car and Geryon’s
whole body formed one arch of a cry – upcast to that custom, the human custom of wrong love.
Years later they meet in Peru and Geryon’s conflicting feelings begin to overwhelm him once again. Geryon is aware of all the prying eyes and tries to keep his distance, but Herakles won’t let him be, taking the role of a predator that wants to seduce him. Ultimately Geryon is too weak to push him away. This was a really interesting shift in their dynamic because in the original myth Herakles is the hero that kills Geryon. Carson reverses their roles and makes “the monster” the victim which forces her readers to think outside of the box. I personally think it’s also a nod to the original Greek myth, because in fact Geryon was Herakles’s victim in the tale as well. Geryon was only killed by Herakles because it was his tenth task to steal Geryon’s herd of red bulls and after Herakles slayed Orthos and Eurytion Geryon challenged him to a duel which ended with his death.
„Aren’t you cold?“ said Geryon to Ancash who had no coat on. No, said Ancash.
Then he looked sideways at Geryon.
Well actually yes. He smiled. Geryon would have liked to wrap his coat around
this feather man. They walked on.”
As for the role of Ancash, their mutual friend in Peru? I’m still not all too sure what to make of his character, but I think Carson created him to point out Herakles’ abuse. Ancash doesn’t approve of Herakles’ advances and Geryon’s feelings for him, but I also got the feeling that he was jealous?! His character certainly acted as some sort of catalyst and pushed the story along. Honestly, if any of you read “Autobiography of Red” I’d love to hear your thoughts on Ancash. I still don’t know how to place him. XD
All told, to read “Autobiography of Red” was a very weird, yet at the same time intriguing experience. I still don’t know what to make of the ending but I guess Carson left it that way on purpose. It’s the reader’s choice how to interpret it and I think that’s good the way it is. 😉