There is a moment in Megan Hunter’s The Harpy when the narrator, a work-at-home mom in her 30s, hears someone say her name: “Mrs. Stevenson,” they call repeatedly. As she listens, the narrative abruptly shifts perspective. An omniscient narrator takes over, rendering Mrs. Stevenson as the object. A woman sits in a room, hearing herself be named. This shift, this sudden loss of control is a theme at the heart of The Harpy.
In this forthcoming novella, it is the loss of self to the role of wife and mother that directs the action and permeates the mental states of the characters. The mother’s loss of agency is palpable here.
Lucy Stevenson, mother, wife, writer, neighbor, are pieces of a self that become molded, stretched, and rearranged. “Like dough,” Hunter writes at one point, emphasizing the malleability of the self, of who we are and what we’ve done. Even the relationship with her husband feels “borderless,” their selves seeping out and into each other. “Mrs. Stevenson” is a woman “who would never be a real person again.” Unresolved trauma from her childbirth and the hint of a sexual assault in her young adulthood, combined with a sense of feeling “invisible” form Lucy’s mental state, compel her to plead with an imaginary harpy to “get the ones who hurt me.”
Despite the straightforward labels that Lucy wears, she is insistent that she not become the cliche of any of them. When she discovers her husband’s affair, she dreads playing out “those TV shows,” narratives “that seemed to have greater texture than my own existence.” In her struggle to not perform the expected routine, to not “say all the things we’d both seen,” she instead finds herself pushing the categories of herself away, finding that she is becoming the self that she was destined to become.
Hunter’s slow-burning novella will pull readers into the tempting glow of its relatable and tangible domestic sketches, and then shock them with its intensity.
Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the advance copy of this title.
The Harpy by Megan Hunter
Fiction – Grove Atlantic, Grove Press
Publication date: 13 November 2020