Book Review: “Oil and Hemlock” by Kristin Durfee

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I like the arts. I like history. I like a good time-travel story. And “Oil and Hemlock: The Masters Reimagined Volume 2” by Kristin Durfee delivers well in all three areas.

Part of a collection of stories “The Masters Reimagined Volume 2” in which each author pens a tale influenced by a famous work of art, “Oil and Hemlock”is inspired by Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates.

The following is the short story’s summary from Amazon:

Amita, a young New York philosophy student, is whisked from 1977 to 399 BC Athens, and into the life of one of her heroes, Socrates. Yet her excitement plunges into horror as she realizes she’s arrived on the day of his trial and execution.

The characters and Ancient Greece are written well enough to keep the reader engaged to the end. Even though Socrates and Plato were real-life historical figures, Durfee shaped them into characters we can interact with and who can help Amita through a confusing and unique moment in life.

The short story serves as a mini-history lesson, one which required me to do a little more reading outside the story. For example, I didn’t know who Xanthippe was until I read “Oil and Hemlock” though she must be as famous as her philosopher husband. The author well encapsulates who Xanthippe was, what she’s known for, and how her relationship with Socrates was, but I still felt compelled to read a few articles about her, like this one from Medium.

I like how the first chapter is set up so the reader meets Amita as a grandmother recounting her time-travel to Ancient Greece. This works (instead of the book immediately getting into the straight timeline of Amita’s time-traveling) because from the perspective of Amita as a grandmother, the reader understands better her takeaway from her experience of youth.

All in all, “Oil and Hemlock” has kept me wondering what will happen next to Amita in Ancient Greece, how will she make sense of her odd experience, and how it changes her. This is a story that enables the reader to experience a painting, especially one as well-known as The Death of Socrates.

Teresa Edmond-Sargeant is an award-winning journalist and author. She released her first collection of short stories “Inner Demons” in October 2020. She is the author of the short story ebooks “Eve the First,”“For My Sister,” and “Sammy’s Butterflies.” She will release her poetry ebook “A Symphony of Silence” in early 2021 and her debut novel “Warding Off Reality” in August 2021.