Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

It starts with a creepy introduction, and Ron Koertge's take on fairy tales gets darker and twistier from there.

Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you
want to think about the world in a new way?

Come closer. Closer, please.
I want to whisper in your ear.
Written largely in free verse (although much of it reads like spare prose, and not actual poetry), this collection is decidedly not a hearts-and-flowers account of Happily Ever After (HEA). And it's accompanied by what appear to be cut-paper representations of many of the tales.

For instance, the first story fills you in on what happened to Cinderella's stepsisters after Cinderella moved to the castle, and it involves various forms of mutilation and wishing for death. There are other characters who don't exactly get their HEA endings either, such as the characters in Rapunzel (who knew?), the mole in Thumbelina, and the father in Hansel & Gretel (at least impliedly, based on Koertge's telling).

Some of the tales are brought forward in time to the present, such as "The Little Match Girl", which features a kid trying to sell CDs on a corner in a very bad neighborhood, Little Red Riding Hood, or "Bearskin", in which the soldier who makes a deal with the devil is a veteran from Iraq, living in the psych ward at the Veterans Administration hospital.

There's the story of Bluebeard, which starts in first person from his latest wife's perspective as follows, then shifts to third, with a rather titillating ending, where we're left to wonder how this Mrs. Bluebeard's story will end - and which ending she prefers..
"Yes, it's blue and Yes it tickles and Yes he's had a lot of wives
and nobody knows what happened to them

but he's fun at the party and omigod that castle!
Blue frescoes, a bathtub of cherries, golden trees
with sapphire leaves,

pearls in rainwater, cranes in a paper cage, a diamond
hummingbird in a real hollyhock

I do! I do! I take thee in weirdness and in health.
This sort of breathless narrative is used to spectacular advantage in "Red Riding Hood, Home at Last, Tells Her Mother What Happened," a rushed recounting of how Red met the wolf - and really wanted to be swallowed whole, which may be one of my favorite pieces in the entire collection. (It is decidedly my favorite to read aloud, in any case.)

Other stories are incredibly thought-provoking, including the aforementioned "The Little Match Girl" and the story of "Little Thumb", a tale about a small person who realized that the ogres had come to town and tricked the father ogre into slitting the throats of his own children.

Everybody says the moral of the story
is that short guys can be cunning
and brave.

But I think the moral is that children pay
for the sins of their parents. Ask anybody
who hates to go home after school.

Ask the girl whose mother is a drunk
and a whore. Ask the boy whose dad
is doing twenty-five to life.
A must-grab for folks interested in alternate retellings, in verse novels (although really, it's more of a short story collection), and for fans of thought-provoking writing in general.


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2 comments:

tanita davis said...

I pretty much love anything this author does - and twisted fairy tales are even better in the hands of a competent author. Win!

Chris Okelberry said...

Sounds intriguing. I've always enjoyed Roald Dahl's twisted fairy tales...this sounds even more compelling.

Will have to check it out. :)