Orpheus and Eurydice in the American Southwest

to rule the desert, by Monica Robinson

2 minute read
Book cover: title written large in white over an illustration of a woman stepping gracefully away from a blue snake.

Philadelphia writer, poet, and artist Monica Robinson’s haunting debut novella, to rule the desert, is a loose retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s a story with solid ground for countless re-imaginings, with metaphorical significance for endless approaches with different lenses, while still holding a recognizable core.

to rule the desert exists in a cloud of hazy, Southern Gothic air, shimmering with the uncertainty of mirage. Horror set in the unrelenting heat and landscape of the American Southwest desert pairs well with the uneasy, winding, speculative journey Robinson creates in the book’s narrative, centering two queer women in a roadtrip-gone-wrong story.

Following Quinn and Ava on a literal and metaphorical route between living, dead, and all that lies between, this story is full of quiet observers ferrying the characters along their journey. Their memories haunt them, but they also become the specters haunting their own memories. The reader, too, becomes a part of the story as a present observer through the layered experiences of the characters across the desert.

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is, at its core, about the impermanence of our connections with one another, and the struggle to accept this in grief. While to rule the desert has recognizable motifs from the myth, Robinson turns the story into something new, not just in the queer identities of the two key players, but in the Southern Gothic setting, the narrative structure, and the exploration of themes of life and death, memory, and humanity.

Robinson explores the often-indefinable nature of human emotions through winding prose and generous subversions of structural and corporeal expectations: “... the desert held a vague awareness, impossible to put into words ...”

Experimental, haunting, and viscerally emotional, to rule the desert creates a world both familiar and strange, and every moment in this story will make you look twice.

What, When, Where

to rule the desert. By Monica Robinson. Independently published, April 5, 2023. 104 pages, paperback; $16. Get it here.

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