Shakespeare’s plays are fertile ground for reinvention with contemporary authors recasting the stories with new context and even new interpretations. Jack Todd took on the reimagination of The Tempest with Rose & Poe. While The Tempest is centered on Prospero and Miranda, Rose & Poe is about Sycorax and Caliban.
Poe is a simple, gentle giant with six digits on all his hands and feet, with a hump on his back and a huge birthmark. He cannot read and can only tell time twice a day. He spends his day milking their goats, fishing, and building a stone wall for his neighbor Prosper Thorne, whose daughter Miranda is one of his few good friends.
When Miranda is assaulted during a tempestuous storm that takes out the roads and cuts Belle Coeur County off, Poe carried her broken body from the old gravel pit where he found her. Calling “help her – help her” he is still the natural suspect because, of course, he is. The strange and outcast are always suspect.
I enjoyed Rose & Poe quite a bit. It is exciting to see Caliban take center stage and the dead Sycorax reanimated, a living, loving mother. It reads more like a fable, the characters are archetypes, there is this uncanny magical element in the story with the violent storm that erases all evidence that could prove or disprove Poe’s innocence or guilt, and the story reveals a moral lesson for the community and of course, for the reader.
The story is heartbreaking, but then Caliban is a tragic figure. I was moved by Rose’s powerful love for her son and by Poe’s confusion. There are also moments of sly humor that will make you smile.
It was interesting to contrast this with Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s version of The Tempest written for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. They could not be more different and yet they are both phenomenal recasting of a classic.
I received an e-galley of Rose & Poe from the publisher through Edelweiss.