REVIEW: Phedippides Didn’t Die by Autumn Konopka

Review By Nicole Conti

 Pheidippides Didn’t Die is a captivating romance novel that Autumn Konopka sagaciously weaves topics of  grief, mental illness, and trauma into a heartwarming love story. With the makings of a romantic comedy, the reader will inevitably blush, laugh, and shed a tear (or many) at the gripping poetic portrayal on deep themes Konopka bravely and unapologetically delves into.

The novel opens from the perspective of Libby is running en route to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and she has a very blunt candor about her intentions. With ten-pound ankle weights strapped to her ankles, the reader is led to believe that she is on a casual run to the bridge, until Libby eventually reveals her secret mission is to commit suicide. She is interrupted by the novel’s second protagonist, Mac, who pulls her into conversation with his blubbering, awkward charm. He is handsome, goofy, boyish, and utterly at her disposal. The reader is instantly drawn to the contrasting characters, along with the jarringly atypical way they meet. He indirectly talks her off the bridge, and they go to a coffee shop. The narration then shifts from her perspective to his, as it does this throughout the novel, resulting in reliable and trustworthy narrators as the reader gets to enjoy both of their inner monologues.

Libby has a history riddled with sexual trauma, grief, and heartbreak. She has only been truly loved by her best friend, Helen, who influences her to reconnect with her brother. Her brother wants nothing to do with Libby, so she must learn to grieve someone who is still living. Despite all of this, she never once victimizes herself through her poignantly tragic history. It is sheerly evident through every word, even when struggling or descending, that she is stronger than most. This character is framed in wondrously lyrical and keenly self-aware diction, making her likable and real to the reader in every mental breakdown or stride.

Mac also grieves for his brother, who has been dead for years. He deals with anxiety and the daunting responsibility of being strong for his family in his secret emotional suffering. To make his family and his brother proud, he asks Libby to help train him for the marathon his brother participated in every year. This interlocks their fates in a symbolic process of running and training whereas they are mending together in their shared grievances. Despite her valiant emotional guard and his several mistakes, you will root for them the entire way, flipping through all the chapters to see their end result.

Libby and Mac are a paragon of how two people do not enter a relationship perfectly unscathed. Their flaws prove that healing and the art of loving is not linear, deeming it a realistic portrayal that merely informs, not romanticizes. Both Mac and Libby realize together that even though they are dealing with differing forms of grief, that it is all the same in the end, and all grief is to be alleviated the same way: unconditional love, understanding, and reassurance. This story is a hopeful allegory for the people who have the same struggles Mac and Libby do. A much-needed modern take on love that does not shy away from the brutalities of mental illness, grief, and sexual trauma. It proves that characters can be traumatized, but also be funny, sexy, and charming. Konopka sheds candid glaring light on the obscure bravery of navigating romance with mental/emotional hardships, and that there is more nuance to trauma than being healed or not healed, being okay or not okay. So yes, you will undoubtedly race through this novel, but it will sit with you long after the finish line.


Autumn Konopka is a writer, runner, trauma-informed teacher, and coffee lover. She teaches, parents, and tries to make the world a better place in and around Philadelphia. Her poems have appeared in Coal Hill Review, Main Street Rag, Apiary, Literary Mama, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. Her chapbook, a chain of paper dolls, was published by the Head & the Hand Press (2014, Philadelphia). She blogs regularly for the Mad Poets Society. In 2016, she was poet laureate of Montgomery County, Pa., selected by Pulitzer-prize winning poet Carl Dennis. Autumn has a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA in poetry from Antioch University. Currently, Autumn teaches writing courses in and around Philadelphia.



Nicole Conti is currently a student at Monmouth University in New Jersey studying English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. She is an aspiring author pursuing a career in publishing commercial fiction. Her writing is often inspired by women’s rights and her feminist poem, “july twenty-first” won her school’s Toni Morrison Day creative writing prize.