Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

March 17, 2015 § 1 Comment

“Die Hutte,” said my father as though he were starting a prayer.

I could say nothing. …In my imagination it had been a gingerbread house with roses around the door, a veranda with a rocking chair, and smoke puffing from the chimney. Exactly who was there to tend the roses or light the stove hadn’t been clear, but even seeing Oliver Hannington would have been better than the tumbledown witch’s house that stood before us.

endless_fullerWhen eight-year-old Peggy is taken by her father deep into the Bavarian woods, she believes they’re only going for a holiday. But her father then tells her a fairy tale about a little girl who wishes for silence, and is granted that wish when everyone else on the earth disappears. She is that little girl, he says, and everyone they’ve left behind is dead. Thus begins Peggy’s own dark fairy tale, learning to survive the harsh winters and brutal summers alone with her father, until tragedy and madness force her to rediscover the world she’d believed had died.

Claire Fuller’s debut novel knowingly draws on fairy tale tropes to contextualize her character’s understanding of this strange new life. Peggy insists on changing her name to Punzel (short for Rapunzel), and her thwarted expectations of what life in Die Hutte will be like are based on her memory of German fairy tale books and their charming illustrations. But what Punzel may not realize is what a fairy tale-savvy reader will: that the true bonds between Peggy’s story and those German fairy tales are tied into the darker edges of Peggy’s world. In her near starvation during the first winter in Die Hutte, we can hear the echoes of desperation that would egg Hansel and Gretel’s parents to abandon them in the forest to save food. In Peggy’s isolation and her father’s growing madness, we read the same hints of danger that begin such stories as “Thousandfurs” and “The Girl With No Hands.” Our Endless Numbered Days is not a fairy tale retelling, but its resonance springs from a familiarity with fairy tales at their darkest, those stories in which a witch is not the greatest threat, but physical peril and the treacherous weaknesses of those we love can condemn us.

I wish I could delve more into the specific callbacks to well-known Grimm tales in this gripping novel, but I would do so at the risk of spoiling some very satisfying plot developments. So I leave you with this instead: Our Endless Numbered Days is a dark prize of a book, a thrilling crime headline and a fairy tale rolled into one. Its ending — though a bit abrupt — will have you turning over Peggy’s story in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page. A story of determined survival edged with deep loss and sadness, this debut balances nuanced fairy tale tropes with harsh reality, providing a satisfying alternative to surface-level fairy tale adaptations that highlight flash and fantasy, and that dare not examine all-too-human foibles.

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