143. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer (2010)
Length: 554 pages
Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy / Fairy Tales, Modern Fiction
Started: 03 November 2010
Finished: 11 November 2010
Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? A new Fairy Tale anthology from authors that aren’t all necessarily fantasy authors? Yes please!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 27 October 2010.
A book of fairy
tales, without one mention of
a single fairy.
Summary: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me is a collection of new, modern fairy tales for adults, primarily (although not exclusively) collected from authors who are not normally known for writing fairy tales or other fantasy. They take as their inspiration both classic stories from the likes of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, as well as lesser-known fairy tales and myths from around the world. Some are retellings, some are reinterpretations, and some are continuations of what happens after the familiar part of the story. Some stories stick very close to their source material, while others take elements of the original tale and venture much further afield. Some are set in fairy-tale time, while others are set in the modern world, but all attempt to capture traditional fairy tales in a new and modern light.
Review: Bernheimer states in her introduction that we all have an intuitive sense of what constitutes the basic elements of a fairy tale, and that we can identify such stories even when the specific details are unfamiliar to us, and even when there are no fairies involved. And while I think that’s true, I think her definition of those “basic elements” and my definition aren’t always in agreement. In my mind, fairy tales have both a rhythm to them and a focus on telling a good story that many of the pieces in this collection lacked.
In general, I was a little bit disappointed with this collection, and I think that the widespread lack of focus on telling a story was the reason why. This is part of the reason that I tend to read more young adult novels, and less “modern” or “literary” fiction: the emphasis in young adult novels is frequently on telling an interesting story, while I’ve found that in “adult” fiction, the story oftentimes takes a back seat to doing fancy things with the language, or making unconventional stylistic choices, or what have you. (These aren’t absolute divisions by any means; there are plenty of YA novels with breathtaking use of language, and plenty of “adult” novels that tell a great story.) In any case, I was expecting a collection subtitled “Forty New Fairy Tales” to tell me forty good stories – made into “adult” fiction by making deeper or more complex plot and character choices, and by not shying away from some of the darker realities behind the magic – but still not stinting on the story part of the story. Quite a bit of what I got, however, were short pieces that may have used fairy tale tropes as a springboard, but which seemed so focused on the style rather than the story that they no longer had a proper fairy tale feeling to them.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy much of the book. As a whole, the stories were generally well-written pieces of work, and I could see what the authors were trying to accomplish with most of the pieces. There were also more than a few stories that I really enjoyed on multiple levels. My two favorites are pretty representative of the range of styles and settings encompassed in this collection: “The Color Master” by Aimee Bender is set in a traditional fairy-tale kingdom, and involves a series of royal orders for dresses of increasingly unlikely hues; while Stacey Richter’s “A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility” is the formal report of an emergency room incident involving a meth addict who claims she’s a princess. Neil Gaiman’s “Orange” was also a standout, and a nice illustration of how you can use an unconventional style while still telling an interesting story (although how he got from his stated inspiration of The Odyssey to a tale of a girl whose sister became addicted to self-tanner, I may never understand.)
So, while it wasn’t quite what I was expecting or hoping for, it wasn’t a bad read, either. It’s just… for a collection of modern fairy tales, I would have found it more satisfying if more of the authors had focused more on the “fairy tales” and less on the “modern”. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Although fairy tale and fantasy aficionados might be the most likely to pick this collection up based on its title or cover, I think that it’s primarily geared towards readers of modern fiction who are normally reluctant to venture into the Fantasy section of the bookstore.
Table of Contents:
|– Introduction by Kate Bernheimer
– “Drawing the Curtain” by Gregory Maguire
– “The Pelican Child” by Joy Williams
– “Ardour” by Jonathon Keats
– “I’m Here” by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
– “The Brother and the Bird” by Alissa Nutting
– “Hansel and Gretel” by Francine Prose
– “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin” by Kevin Brockmeier
– “With Hair of Hand-Spun Gold” by Neil LaBute
– “The Swan Brothers” by Shelley Jackson
– “The Warm Mouth” by Joyelle McSweeney
– “Snow White, Rose Red” by Lydia Millet
– “The Erkling” by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
– “Dapplegrim” by Brian Evenson
– “The Wild Swans” by Michael Cunningham
– “Halfway People” by Karen Joy Fowler
– “Green Air” by Rikki Ducornet
– “The Mermaid in the Tree” by Timothy Schaffert
– “What the Conch Shell Sings When the Body is Gone” by Katherine Vaz
– “The Snow Queen” by Karen Brennan
– “Eyes of Dogs” by Lucy Corin
– “Little Pot” by Ilya Kaminsky
– “A Bucket of Warm Spit” by Michael Martone
|– “Catskin” by Kelly Link
– “Teague O’Kane and the Corpse” by Chris Adrian
– “Pleasure Boating in Lituya Bay” by Jim Shepard
– “Body-Without-Soul” by Kathryn Davis
– “The Girl, The Wolf, The Crone” by Kellie Wells
– “My Brother Gary Made a Movie and This is What Happened” by Sabrina Orah Mark
– “The Color Master” by Aimee Bender
– “The White Cat” by Marjorie Sandor
– “Blue-Bearded Lover” by Joyce Carol Oates
– “Bluebeard in Ireland” by John Updike
– “A Kiss to Wake the Sleeper” by Rabih Alameddine
– “A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility” by Stacey Richter
– “Orange” by Neil Gaiman
– “Psyche’s Dark Night” by Francesca Lia Block
– “The Story of the Mosquito” by Lily Hoang
– “First Day of Snow” by Naoko Awa
– “I am Anjuhimeko” by Hiromi Ito
– “Coyote Takes Us Home” by Michael Mejia
– “Ever After” by Kim Addonizio
– “Whitework” by Kate Bernheimer
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First Line: Despite its heft, this collection is a tiny hall of mirrors in the world’s giant house of fairy tales.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. xxv: “Tolkien, that philologist turned bard and pantocratur of Middle-earth, called it faërie, that which “holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky, the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.”” – the ruler of everything.
- p. 15: “And then Olga realized: Why not visit the only place on earth where no one will turn her away, where they’ll always be happy to see her, where they’ll sit her down, make her tea, ask how she is and even invite her to stay over; why not visit their old landlady, from the dacha, where they lived so many years in a row when Nastya was still little, and she and Seryozha still hoped for a better life?” – a Russian country house or villa.
- p. 186: “Madame Ernestine Swarth, the mezzo-soprano whose farewell performance at the Mudpuddle Hall had been selling out nightly for three years, happened by that evening and lifted the black veil of her feathery sinamay hat to look over Rapunzel’s shoulder as she sketched.” – a material used in making hats made from the Abaca tree, handwoven and bleached.
- p. 354: ““I suppose not,” said the wolf, who’d had a hunch the saving catholicon of the bread would not make it to him in time.” – a universal remedy; panacea. I could figure this one out from knowing the word “catholic”, but I’d never seen the noun form before.
- p. 358: “The girl remembered the delicious wolf soup her grandmother used to make her and felt a fond stirring in her own kishkas.” – Slang: the innermost parts; guts, based on a dish of the same name that involves a beef or fowl intestine stuffed with a mixture of flour, fat, onion, and seasonings, and roasted.
- p. 359: “The girl, with a face like a rusted skillet, clutched the bread, and when she saw the huntsman, she went, stem to stern, red as the end of the world; the huntsman took one look at the girl and thought Bolshevik and decided no brazen-faced rose that rutilant was worth deflowering, bread or no bread, and he pumped the bladder beneath his arm and took another slug of wine; and the naked old crone?” – glowing or glittering with ruddy or golden light.
- p. 363: ““I’m going to Barcelona,” said Gary. Now, that really ceiled me.” – to overlay (the ceiling of a building or room) with wood or plaster. This doesn’t make a lot of sense in context, but since the story involved some mis-use of words, I think I’ll let it slide.
- p. 459: “However, I am starting to see the interconnectedness of all cultures and stories and so I decided to explore this favorite tale as the märchen that it was often considered to be.” – folktale characterized by elements of magic or the supernatural.
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