Psyche is the youngest of three princesses, a young woman of such extraordinary beauty that there are no words to describe her. Though she doesn't want or understand the attention, people worship her as they would a goddess -- and it does not go unnoticed by Venus, the goddess of Love. The jealous goddess sends her son, Cupid, to deal with the situation.
According to his Author's Note, Julius Lester originally meant Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire to be about seventy-five pages long. It was to be a simple retelling of the Cupid and Psyche story in the voice of a Southern black storyteller. But, like Gerald Morris, as he did research, he discovered gaps that he wanted to fill and characters who he wanted to include, so the proposed seventy-five pages ended up more than doubling.
While many readers will find the storyteller's asides distracting, others (myself included) will feel that his voice enhances the story. I enjoyed his personal asides (some of which, according to the Author's Note, are about Julius Lester and some of which are not) and his relationship with the story:
I could try to explain that, but the story is jumping up and down on my foot and pulling on my shirt because it wants to know what is going to happen to Psyche. Isn't that interesting? Even a story doesn't know how it is going to turn out because who knows what a storyteller will say once he or she gets going good. Sometimes even I don't know until I hear the words coming out of my mouth.
His voice (on the page) is such a performer's voice that I could hear him speaking as I read, and I can easily imagine Cupid finding a home with theater geeks -- it seems like it'd be prime monologue material. I don't do audiobooks, but I listened to the entire excerpt available at Random House, which I'm embedding here.
Romantics will enjoy it. I'm not talking about fans of the little-r romance novels of Stephenie Meyer or Lurlene McDaniels. I'm talking about teen Romantics-with-a-capital-R, who will get all twittery about passages like this:
I'm going to get philosophical for a moment since this is a philosophical novel. In love, and perhaps only in love, are the finite limitations of self dissolved and we merge, not only with the beloved other, but with wonder itself. In love, whether it is love of another, of music, art, or whatever, we belong to someone or something and are no longer alone.
It is very much "A Tale of Love and Desire", but it is also a coming of age story for both Cupid and Psyche, a story about letting go for Venus, a story about a boy who falls in love with someone of whom his mother doesn't approve and a story about the differences between love and lust, about sacrifice and conquering fear. I admit that part of me would have liked to see Psyche kick Cupid to the curb and head off into the sunset, either alone or with Favonius the West Wind, but A) Cupid isn't all that bad, he's just got a lot of growing up to do, and B) that's just not the way the old story goes.
Then again, if it's the storyteller who has the power...