The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland on The Slate Book Review

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

My first review with Slate is up today, on the latest in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. Here’s an excerpt:

GirlWhoSoared_Lo-600x899The emotional crunch of book three, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, is September’s worry that her Persephone visa, which allows her to return each spring to Fairyland, will soon be null and void. Valente’s imagination for whimsical locales in this series reaches a pinnacle with this book, as we follow September to a highway in the stars, a moon-city that grows along the swirling insides of a giant shell, and a lightning jungle that crackles with electricity. But the Fairyland books are not about Fairyland itself—its wonderful locations are merely colorful backdrops for September’s transformation from a Somewhat Heartless 12-year-old into a complex 14-year-old. And despite the presence of beloved characters from earlier novels, The Girl Who Soared is an adolescent’s tale, full of raw emotion, unabashed wonder, and touching uncertainty.

Read the rest here.

I’m terrible at being coy: I’ll go ahead and admit that having an article on Slate is a big deal for me. Two years ago, when I left school and moved to Poughkeepsie, I started this blog in my off hours working at a restaurant, hoping that eventually it would lead to something good. It’s led to a ton of good, and the book that first inspired me to start blogging was Valente’s Deathless, a dark, adult take on Russian folklore. So publishing a review in a mag like Slate, about another of Valente’s books, seems satisfyingly full-circle for me. I’m very grateful for the chance, and I hope it leads to even more good stuff in the future. Thanks for reading!

xo Orpheus: A Farewell to Myth

September 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

xo orpheus coverTuesday the 24th marks the release of xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, editor Kate Bernheimer’s follow-up to 2010’s My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: 40 New Fairy Tales. Bernheimer’s raison d’etre is the fairy tale and its form, and her previous anthology celebrated the malleable and enduring nature of fairy tales through fairy tale-inspired short stories by contemporary authors. But with xo Orpheus, tales of gods instead of princes, Heavens instead of hearths, were the challenge.

Myths are innately different from fairy tales, because myths, in Bernheimer’s own words, are about “the celestial, the magical, [the] other, [myth is] from on high down, and intersects with the humans. And in fairy tales, [the ineffable is] among us.” Myths are our explanations not of everyday life, but of the world at large, how it came to be, and who made it so. Retelling a myth means rewriting our explanations of the world. « Read the rest of this entry »

Yellowcake Review in June Issue of Bookslut

June 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

9780375869204_p0_v1_s260x420I loved reading Margo Lanagan’s haunting and elegant collection of short stories, Yellowcake, and you can now read why over at Bookslut. My review (which was originally posted here on the Train) has been published in the June Issue, where it’s in wonderful company! There’s also a feature article about Angela Carter’s complicated relationship with the US by Madeline Monson-Rosen, a review of Austin Grossman’s You, and more.

Here’s an excerpt:

Reading Lanagan’s work has always felt, for me, like reading something so familiar it surprises you; it’s the opposite of that writerly advice to “make the familiar strange.” Lanagan is already writing the strange, and that’s what we expect to find. What we don’t expect, then, is the familiarity, the hearth and home, the worry and the relief. In the world of these stories, a simple rose can have its essence magnified into something unbearably surreal, and yet it’s so imbued with real experience and memory, that what is left after the magnification recedes is something human and realistically nuanced, such as the wonder and fear of a small boy, or the love between a man and a wife who have grown old and tired together.

Thanks for reading!

Fairy Tales Behind the Curtain: A Conversation with Kate Wolford and Megan Engelhardt

May 9, 2013 § 6 Comments

Kate Wolford is a teacher, scholar, and author/editor of Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With, now out from World Weaver Press. She also edits the online magazine Enchanted Conversation. Megan Engelhardt is the co-author of Wolves and Witches, a collection of prose and poetry fairy tale adaptations by herself and her sister, Amanda C. Davis. Wolves and Witches is also available from World Weaver Press.

btgs-cover-ebook-300-dpiBoth Kate and Megan agreed to chat with me about fairy tales and their complicated relationship with gender, and what draws writers and scholars to them still. Enjoy!

crfricke: Both the act of collecting little known fairy tales and re-writing fairy tales are akin to drawing back a curtain on something—would you say that that was part of your mission in writing these books? If so, how would you define what is being revealed?

Kate Wolford: Yes, is my answer to the first question. Of the ten tales in Beyond the Glass Slipper, only “The Nixy” and “King Pig” are even moderately well known—especially when it comes to US readers. The massive domination of Disney fairy tale culture in the Americas means that even sophisticated fans of fairy tales might have a fairly narrow view of what a fairy tale is “supposed” to be. For example, people really believe that fairy tales always end in “happily ever after.” They very often don’t. What the book is meant to reveal is a wider idea of what a fairy tale can be, and that the world of fairy tales is richer and more diverse than most of us ever imagine. I also want readers to realize that fairy tale heroes and heroines often are people of questionable character. Look at the soldier in one of the stories, “The Blue Light.” That he will be as bad a king as the man he vanquishes is pretty clear. But, then again, in Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” the protagonist is a stalker, but people so seldom notice.

wolves-and-witches-coverMegan Engelhardt: For the first question, in our case, a lot of the tales we use are fairly well known. I think for Amanda and me, the fun comes in asking the reader to look at the familiar from a different angle. I’m not sure that it’s fair to call it a mission, really, but it is definitely an interest that directed a lot of the work in Wolves and Witches. We all know what happens from the main character’s point of view, but what’s the villain thinking? What’s going on over here to the side of the main action? What happens after the curtain closes? Those are the questions that fired our imaginations, and those are the stories we tried to reveal to the reader. « Read the rest of this entry »

Six-Gun Snow White: A Victim’s Trickster Tale

February 27, 2013 § 6 Comments

It’s a real shame that neither of Hollywood’s big-budget Snow White adaptations could boast Catherynne M. Valente on their writing staff.

Too often, in the ouvre of fairy tale adaptations, we’re told that we’re going to see something new—the tale like it’s never been told!—and what we end up with instead is the same shlock, with better CGI. The art of the creative, thoughtful, and powerful fairy tale retelling is a quiet one that thrives less in Hollywood studios than it does in literary magazines, YA publishing houses, and small presses like Subterranean. If you, like me, gagged on your popcorn when Mirror, Mirror’s Snow White was told by the prince that she tastes “like strawberries,” then get thee to Subterranean Press’s site, and don’t balk at the $40 price tag of Valente’s limited edition of Six-Gun Snow White, because in its pages you’ll find all the beauty and sorrow that got left on the cutting room floor of last year’s feature films. Infused with Native American trickster tales and Spaghetti Western dudes, this retelling is less of a stretch than you might think—in fact, it’s an adaptation that transcends its patchworked nature, strips the archetypal characters to their raw human bones, and reveals the true beating heart of the fairy tale.

sixgun-snowwhite

Cover illustration by Charles Vess

In Six-Gun Snow White, Snow White is the cruel nickname given to the daughter of a silver baron and his first wife by his second, the proverbial stepmother. Snow White’s tragic mother was a Crow Indian woman who was forced into marriage with Mr. H, and who, after a failed suicide attempt, dies giving birth to the half-breed Snow White. Snow is kept a secret from Mr. H’s second wife, a pale and beautiful white woman who, once she finally meets Snow, makes it her terrible mission to teach Snow about beauty, womanliness, and whiteness. Snow White’s brown skin is the marker that makes her different from her stepmother, and it becomes her curse when she takes off from home in her father’s clothes with her pistol, Rose Red, by her side. « Read the rest of this entry »

Review Review Review

January 13, 2013 § 3 Comments

Just a quick bit of weekend reading: “Meta-Deference in the Knowable World,” my review of the latest issue of The Normal School, is up at The Review Review. Give it a look!

An excerpt:

tns9_cover_thumbWhen I’m reading something that’s really hooked me, I don’t even know how good it is until I realize that I’ve been reading it out loud.

A couple of things:

I’m not a big reader of nonfiction.

I grew up in Memphis, TN, but I never went to Graceland. By choice.

So imagine the weirdness of suddenly realizing that I’m reading, out loud like a holy incantation, a sentence by Ned Stuckey-French, affirming his belief that Elvis wasn’t by any means, as he puts it, dumb.

What name should we give to that feeling, that light-bulb-going-off realization, when we awake from a pleasurable reading stupor to find that a very talented writer has just caused us to respect—maybe even to like—something which we’d previously disdained? What’s the term for the condition I found myself in, whispering Ned Stuckey-French’s rationalization of Elvis out loud to myself, like it was holy writ? A Writer-on-Artist Lovefest. Meta-Deference.

Thanks for reading!

Exit Sendak, Pursued by a Bear: “My Brother’s Book”

January 11, 2013 § 5 Comments

In a now-infamous and oft-quoted NPR interview with Terry Gross in 2011, Maurice Sendak mentioned that he was writing a poem about a nose, and that it didn’t matter if no one understood it.

cn_image.size.maurice-sendak“I’m working for myself at this point,” he said. “This time is for me, and for me alone.”

“I’ve always wanted to write a poem about a nose, but you know…sort of a ludicrous subject,” he continued. “When I was younger, I was afraid of something that didn’t make a lot of sense but time went on, and you don’t have to worry about (your work not making sense to other people). It doesn’t matter.”

He was being completely serious. He was writing a poem about a nose.

His brother Jack’s nose, in fact.

Jack Sendak died on February 3rd, 1995. Now, less than a year after Maurice’s death, My Brother’s Book, his last completed work, is being published. The slim little book is an illustrated poem by Maurice about his brother’s death, and his own journey through grief. « Read the rest of this entry »

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