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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Collinsworth, Eden: It Might Have Been What He Said

  Amazon  

3 stars

Eden Collinsworth's It Might Have Been What He Said begins with an arresting first paragraph:

"Isabel could remember the precise moment she tried killing her husband. Strangely enough, she couldn't recall why."

The lines suggest what sort of a story might follow: layers of mystery and deceit to be unwrapped, and pieces of Isabel's mental puzzle connecting to form a clearer image of the events that precipated the story's violent climax. But that's not what happens. The book tells the story of Isabel's marriage to James, an account that encompasses forays into their respective childhoods. Isabel's was something out of a gothic novel (so even the author tells us), with a distant father who communicated almost exclusively through New York Times clippings, an undemonstrative, mentally ill mother, and a by-the-book nanny. James is the scion of an aristocratic but money-poor Virginia family. James' principal problem is that he's fiscally irresponsible. Isabel's principal problem is James. Their marriage should never have happened, should not have lasted for as long as it did, and when it fails no one should be surprised. As for the book's first lines, their promise is never paid off: Isabel, as it happens, eventually regains her memory of the event without any trouble at all, and the attempted murder, when it's finally detailed to us, proves to be anticlimactic. Since it amounts to nothing in the end, it becomes apparent that Isabel's memory lapse is merely a device used to delay the narration of the dramatic scene.

It's difficult to become emotionally invested in Collinsworth's story. That Isabel and James' marriage ends badly is hardly a tragedy. And Collinsworth's characters are not credible: James is impossibly egocentric and shallow, Isabel impossibly self-possessed (though not, admittedly, when she tries to kill James), and their son Burgo impossibly precocious. Here, for example, is a conversation between Isabel and Burgo when he was perhaps five or six years old:

"'Can you think of fictional icons as symbols of something real?'

Finally, Burgo decided to give his mother a graceful way out. 'Yes, I can think of other examples.'

'They are?'

'Well, Batman is fiction. Ulysses might have been real, but the Cyclops wasn't.'

'The waiter in the Greek coffee shop near my office has a kind of Cyclops unibrow,' said Isabel. She realized she was digressing when she saw her son's impatient look. 'I believe Ulysses was real. Ten years and countless hardships later, he was still trying to return to his wife. Women like to put men to the test, my dear. When your time comes--and it will, Burgo--try to do the right thing.'

Burgo ignored his mother altogether.

'Even in our own family, there is fiction and fact,' he pointed out resolutely.

'Really?'

'Yes...you are fact; and Papi is fiction,' Burgo explained."

There are also episodes in the book that have no apparent purpose--the family's brief move to Los Angeles, their problems with an (impossibly) unpleasant neighbor. Even Isabel's extra-familial relationships--with her colleague John and with reclusive literary agent Monina--add very little to the story. Collinsworth's book has garnered a good deal of praise--Susan Cheever alone calls it "thrilling," "compelling," "gripping," "readable," and "shimmering"--so perhaps I'm missing something. But I left disappointed.

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