J.R. Ewing, the man everyone loves to hate in the classic TV series “Dallas,” may have finally met his match. When it comes to lying, cheating and scandals, the Briscoe family in Stacey Swann’s jaw-dropping debut, Olympus, Texas, gives him a run for his money.
Each character in the expansive clan has his or her own secrets, extramarital pursuits and jealous rages, making it hard to keep everything straight without a set of cue cards. To sum up the worst offenders: March Briscoe suffered a two-year exile from the town of Olympus after an affair with his brother Hap’s wife; Peter Briscoe, the family patriarch, fathered three children outside his marriage, including twins Artie and Arlo; June Briscoe, Peter’s wife and mother to Hap and March, is enamored by local veterinarian Cole; and Artie is attracted to Arlo’s former bandmate Ryan, whom she accidentally shoots while on a hunting trip.
And that’s just for starters. March’s return home to Olympus sets off a chain of events as tragic as any caused by the mythological gods. Right out of the gate, March is involved in a knockdown brawl with Hap, picking up where their feud left off two years ago.
No one here is innocent, likable or without secrets worth savoring, making Swann’s book all the more enticing. Cole best sums up the family’s scandalous ways when he asks June, “When’s the last time you did something without thinking?” The answer, it seems, is that none of them is guilty of overthinking anything—or thinking at all, for that matter.
As the novel races from one indiscretion to another at lightning speed, fans of mythology will enjoy spotting the tragic parallels between Swann’s characters and the Greek and Roman gods. (March is clearly Mars, for example.) Swann’s prose is deeply descriptive and her characters heartfelt, but it all boils down to whether anyone in this family can get past their selfish feelings, unrestrained passions and bottled-up anger long enough to forgive each other.