ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘The Harpy’ by Megan Hunter

Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Harpy, Grove Press, Megan Hunter

The Harpy by Megan Hunter is published by  Grove Press.  I was initially struck by its dazzling cover of wings over a woman’s face, but the plot intrigued me even more.   The basic gist of the story is that a woman named Lucy discovers that her husband is having an affair with a coworker of his. In order to proceed with their marriage, they play a game of revenge with one another.  However, this barely touches the surface of this intense adult fiction.

Hunter introduces Lucy to readers by showcasing her normal life. She is a mother to two boys, Paddy and Ted, and a stay at home mom who also works from home as a writer.  She is an expert in her motherly routine, growing complacent in her role as dutiful wife and caregiver.  Lucy has sidelined her personal career goals to adjust her life to her husband, Jake.   It’s with swiftness that Hunter delivers the chilling news of Jake’s infidelity. By stylizing her writing through dreamy prose in italics, Hunter subtly keys readers into the disconnection  Lucy is experiencing. Her life is being turned over by an unknown number telling her that in her marriage, she is the second choice to a man she has done nothing but give to.

The way that The Harpy explores the emotions that encompass a failing marriage is riveting.   The initial shock of the news does nothing to alter her expected role as mother and wife, an exploration Hunter indulges in. The critiques of expectations are layered within Lucy’s grief for her marriage. She is self-aware and understands that her story is no different than any other woman subjected to this emotional violence.  Hunter has no qualms with not explaining Jake’s internal thoughts to readers, as if to say that he’s had it good for too long.  Lucy’s internal dialogue makes it clear that  Jake represents every man who has made a woman suffer. Meanwhile, Lucy represents a  revenge fantasy, one that seeks power and control over an abuser.

What makes Lucy unique is her obsession with The Harpy,  a creature she has been infatuated with since she was a girl. Within the context of this  novel,  harpies are creatures that, “punish men for what they do.”   Lucy’s husband allows her three chances to, “get back” at him. As if only three actions of violence against him is enough to rectify the situation. However, it is within this parameter that Lucy realizes her sense of self has been lost to the routine of her marriage. Paralleling her day to day thoughts,  the italicized prose of Lucy’s relationship with The Harpy strengthens.  Lucy begins to find pleasure in seeing her husband feel pain.  Hunter characterizes her initial stages of guilt over these actions well. It’s almost as if you are rooting for Lucy to exist outside of the invisible confinements of her marriage.  Important questions are explored through the crime and punishment that make up the novel. Do you owe your husband your loyalty? Do you pretend to be a normal family for your children’s sake? Do three acts of physical violence against a partner outweigh their emotional violence? Can you be whole again after you’ve lost yourself?

The fantastical starts to sweep into the narrative as each of these questions are answered. Lucy’s revelations about how motherhood made her feel like an outsider to her own body showcase why her mental retreat into the comfort of The Harpy is important.  The Harpy represents the safety and warmth of a bird-life creature, able to nest and fly away on a whim. No one to answer to, no one to please and that is not the case with being a mom. Hunter’s simple, matter-of-fact tone throughout the novel provides a sense of grounding. It is easy to understand that Lucy felt like a foreigner to herself carrying a child that is morphing her body into something she deems unsatisfying to her husband’s gaze.  She feels like an alien, expected to care for a  human she’s not even sure she loves.  She feels like she’s not a good mother but is expected to be the best with no help from her career hungry husband. However, The Harpy is always at the back of Lucy’s mind, waiting to be awakened one day.  As the stakes rise in this novel,  Hunter does not hesitate to display how Lucy punishes Jake as The Harpy sinks into her day to day life.  She balances the actions well. It never feels like Hunter is condoning domestic violence against a partner. She goes so far as to have a chapter commenting on how Lucy with her complicated feelings. It’s through The Harpy that the metaphor for revenge comes through.  This smart choice to intertwine action and identity with a mythical creature allows for a great depth of exploration and Hunter utilizes that well.

This novel is a dark and introspective marriage story. It is filled to the brim with hard questions that no one should have to ask of their significant other. It is a breeze to get through with its lyrical prose and a brisk pace.   The Harpy is a revenge fantasy served on the wings of finding yourself and breaking free of the chains of expectations imposed on you.

The Harpy is available everywhere on August 11th, 2020.   

The Harpy
4/10

TL;DR

This novel is a dark and introspective marriage story. It is filled to the brim with hard questions that no one should have to ask of their significant other. It is a breeze to get through with its lyrical prose and a brisk pace.   The Harpy is a revenge fantasy served on the wings of finding yourself and breaking free of the chains of expectations imposed on you.