Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Merry Spinster: Beauty is never private

Alice, aka Reading Rambo, put together a distilled list of the best books coming out in 2018 and among those was the book The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg. Given this recommendation and the fact that I follow the author on Twitter and she's pretty swell there, I hopped over to Netgalley to see if I could get a copy. And lo and behold, the request was granted and here we are.

The book is a collection of retellings of fairy tales. And since I think fairy tales are pretty swell and own a number of books about them: Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, a number of Maria Tartar's annotated fairy tales and academic essays about fairy tales, because what's more fun than adding academia to something?
Anyway, stories based on Children's Stories Made Horrific, this seems like exactly the thing for me. Even though I am cautiously optimistic when it comes to retellings. Sometimes they work out well and I'm a big fan; but very often things don't quite work out. And some of the stories most definitely were. And others...less so. But isn't that the way with short story collections?

The stories aren't really scary stories. There more unsettling, but hey, aren't all all fairy tales, particularly those of the Grimm bros variety?

It's always difficult to review collections of short stories. I never really know how to tackle this, even though I've done it a bunch so you'd think I'd figure it out. But nope, not learning from the past is a thing I'm pretty good at so let's muddle through this.

Top 3 
The first story, "The Daughter Cells", a retelling of "The Little Mermaid" was a great way to start the collection and one of the stories I really enjoyed. You have the story you know (mermaid gets legs and tries to get a human to marry her without the use of her voice) but there's a lot less of the infatuation you get in either the original or Disney versions, with a little mermaid that has a lot more agency than other telling seem to give her.

"The Six-Boy Coffins" is based on the fairy tale "The Wild Swans" (sons changed into swans and a sister has to weave nettle shirts for them to turn them back into people) and was probably my favorite of the collection. It's very similar to the original story but wicked stepmothers are replaced with evil fathers (because why do women always have to be evil in these things?) and the ending is disturbing but pretty great.

"Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters" isn't from a single story I recognized but does feature a siren, like of the Odyssey variety. A man who falls in love and the way his mother deals with this news. It is very messed up, but in a good way.

Not so much
"Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad" is the story of some abusing and gaslighting woodland creatures. Maybe because I'm not super familiar with the Mr. Toad stories, this one didn't really do it for me.

"The Wedding Party" felt like the most modern story, with a couple discussing their upcoming wedding. I knew what was happening in the moment but never really understood what the point was? Perhaps someone can read and explain it to me and it will all make sense.

There were a few other stories that fell in the middle. Overall there were more stories I enjoyed than didn't so that's a positive balance.

If you like Ortberg's humor, if you like slightly disturbing stories and if you like fairy tales, definitely something to check out.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 2032

Ortberg, Mallory. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror. Henry Hold and Co, 2018. Netgalley