I’m not even going to try to summarize this one, except to say: interweaving of Snow White & Rose Red, Rumpelstiltskin, and probably some other tales into a lyrical novel with the most sexual creepiness I have had the misfortune to encounter in awhile. This is an excellent example of a book marketed to young adults — it was a Printz Honor Book, even — that seems like it would be happier on the adult shelves. Or at least, as “happy” as a book this disturbing can be.
I will admit, I only got about halfway through. As much as I love fairy-tale retellings, myths as metaphor, and all that jazz, I found it a slog. (I did get a brief summary of the latter half from my colleague, but this is not a book that lends itself to brief summarizing.) But I wanted to mention a couple of things that bothered me anyway, because I believe they — especially the second — deserve airing, and I haven’t seen them anywhere else:
- You know how almost every Oprah’s Book Club book is a sexual assault narrative in which men are predators and women need to overcome their victimhood? This. Only sometimes the predators are literal bears. Of course this is part of the real world and therefore must be explored in fiction; I just find it wearying when almost every interaction between men and women in a story follows this pattern. (Or maybe that’s not even true of this book, either… maybe it’s just not a story that’s compelling to me for whatever reason. I’m always so conflicted when I don’t like a book everyone else loves.)
- What is with the dwarf issues in fairy-tale retellings? The dwarves in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Mirror, Mirror were creepy symbols for… something I never figured out. The dwarf here represents all that is vile, and here is a typical description:
The littlee-man’s face worked with delight and hatred. His head slowly turned, macabre on his hidden neck — perhaps he had no neck, but only the hairs tethering the ball of his head to his doll-body.
Way to align stature with moral character, there. I need to go read that story from Robin McKinley’s A Knot in the Grain where Rumpelstiltskin is the love interest just to clean out my brain.
Not to mention that it takes a long time for anything much to happen, and all the magic is just about as inexplicable and hard to get a handle on as it is in original fairy tales. It is beautifully written prose, no doubt, but decidedly not to my taste. (And, to go back to my assertion that it’s not a YA novel, I can’t imagine the teenager I could pitch it to. It’s too slow and has no strong character anchors.)
Also reviewed at: Chicklish, Asking the Wrong Questions (which compares this with the second Octavian Nothing in an astonishingly elaborate review), and Playing with Words. I couldn’t find anyone who agrees with me (except my colleagues).