The Oracle

A Shakespearen Tragedy for today

Robin Talley's "As I Descended" starts with a good concept, but falls flat in the plot department.

Ann Leimbach, Variety Editor

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I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for modern adaptations of classic works. I like Shakespeare already, but set his plays in a high-school and I’m hooked on the spot. When I read the description of Robin Tally’s As I Descended I could tell right away that it’s a modern, lesbian adaptation of Macbeth.

Set in a boarding school, it tells the story of roomates and girlfriends Maria and Lily as they try to get Maria into Stanford. To do so they have to unseat Delilah, the “queen” of the school and frontrunner for the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Award. I think what happens next should be fairly obvious if you’re familiar with the original play.

As I Descended was a really captivating read, I have a bad habit of bouncing between books but this one kept my attention all the way through. Despite the familiar plot, there was an uneasiness to every moment that filled it with anticipation. The spooky atmosphere really held this novel together, any flaws in the plot or characters were overshadowed by Tally’s powerful prose filled with vivid description. I was so gripped by the writing it was easy to get lost in it, and was definitely a quick and enjoyable read.

Mixing a ghost story with petty high-school drama and a shakespearean tragedy made for a really engaging concept at the start, but it was hard to keep that excitement as I read on. The character motivations weren’t very convincing (a wealthy straight-A student with plenty of extracurriculars shouldn’t be worried about getting into Stanford), and the plot sometimes felt disjointed, leaping from innocent romance to murder with no lead-up. Even the lovely writing couldn’t keep me from getting frustrated with the characters’ stupid decisions and selfish attitudes at times.

Tally was also a bit too on the nose with her interpretation, leaving the story fairly predictable. I wish she had taken some more creative liberties with the plot of Macbeth instead of sticking so closely to the source material. The names especially were worth an eye-roll; Maria-Macbeth, Lily-Lady MacBeth, Delilah-Duncan and Brandon-Banquo to name a few. I enjoy adaptations like these when there’s a little bit more ambiguity to the source material, something to figure out halfway through the book instead of just by reading the description. Had Tally simply taken inspiration from Macbeth and then gone her own way with the plot, the story could’ve been much stronger.

As I Descended is a good book if you don’t analyze it too much. It was fun to read through and just enjoy it as a scary story about highschool students, but when I starting thinking critically it sort of fell apart. I really liked this book when I first read it, it was the kind of book that makes you eager to turn the page and find out what happens next.

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A Shakespearen Tragedy for today