Wren and Belle’s marriage is faltering. In a last-ditch effort to reconnect, they take an anniversary trip to Greece, each intent on exploring the islands, the culture, the history, and hopefully, some small sliver of hope for their ailing couplehood. Instead, they’re drawn further apart, as Belle accepts an offer to tour some of the scenic Greek isles, leaving Wren behind. Adrift, he sets course for the Oracle at Delphi, hoping for architectural or emotional inspiration to strike him. Will they somehow find their way back to each other, or will this trip prove to be the long-expected fork in the road that sends them in different directions for good?
Athena is, at heart, a book about the choices we make and the journeys we undertake to realize our dreams. Belle and Wren each have a vision of their future together, and sadly, that future hasn’t come to fruition, forcing each into deep introspection as they ponder where to go from here.
Apropos for a story about a couple in flux, both transforming into new, unexpected individuals, Athena takes place in Greece, a country still in the process of rediscovering itself after a crippling financial crisis. The burden of deep history and potential for the future casts shadows over both the protagonists and the setting in satisfying ways.
Both Belle and Wren tend to wax theatrical as they embrace the majesty and history of Greece as well as their egocentric interpretations of the other’s failings, a sensation of mild antagonism heightened somewhat by Fairman’s narrative alternating between Belle’s cruise and Wren’s last few days in Greece. Although the hifalutin language is a bit off-putting at the outset, the grandiose sense of self that defines each protagonist adds descriptive charm to their perspectives as you grow more familiar with the characters. It’s hard not to sympathize with Wren during his sections and Belle during hers, irrespective of whether you particularly like the character or not.
And that’s where the true strength of the novel lies: in that nebulous gray space of relationships. It’s said that every conflict has three facets: one side, the opposing side, and the truth somewhere between. Fairman immerses us in both camps and allows the reader to build the history of Belle and Wren’s marriage as we see it, rather than how either of them sees it. This level of trust and confidence in the audience deepens the reader’s engagement with the material, making it oh-so-easy to quickly become emotionally invested in Belle and Wren’s journeys, no matter where they may lead.
Athena is easily Fairman’s most confident and engaging work to date.
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