05 October 2012

Fairy tales! My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (ed. Kate Bernheimer) & Fables (Bill Willingham) &

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father She Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer: I've been dying to read this anthology for two years, being, as I'm sure I've babbled about before, a fairy tale devotee from my earliest literate years, in all their dark and bloodthirsty glory. Unfortunately, while there are some wonderful, weird, wicked stories here, the collection as a whole falls short of greatness. Some of this, I think, is the way it's structured: each story is linked to an original fairy tale (maddeningly, the latter are given in the table of contents but not in the body of the book), and they're organized by country of origin. The problem with this is that there are often multiple new stories deriving from the same old one, so the reader gets several versions of, say, "The Six Swans" in succession. It's clunky pacing, and makes the book seem far too long. Furthering this awkwardness is the author's note following each tale, in which most of them explain what they were trying to do--well, authors, if you succeeded, the note's redundant, and if you didn't, it's just embarrassing.

I also felt that many of the stories were, in fact, the opposite of fairy tales, over-grounded in the Real World and Things That Actually Happen--ignoring the fact that the original tellers of these tales knew perfectly well that they were rearranging reality, creating worlds in which the good were rewarded and the evil punished, where bleakness and misery turns to triumph, usually through the kindness and hard work of the protagonist. Stripped of their otherworldly nature, fairy tales are just depressing, and that's what, for example, John Updike does with "Bluebeard in Ireland," which is just about an unhappy couple. Really breaking new ground there, dude.

But! Those wonderful, weird, wicked stories I mentioned definitely appear. The reliably magical Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman contribute "Catskin" and "Orange," respectively. And I loved Kevin Brockmeier's "A Day in the Life of Half of Rumplestiltskin," Shelley Jackson's "The Swan Brothers," and Timothy Schaffert's "The Mermaid in the Tree." Lydia Millet's "Snow White, Rose Red" and Kate Bernheimer's "Whitework" are also standouts' both of them also appeared in the superior Tin House Fantastic Women compilation. And it was nice to see some lesser-known stories represented, particularly the couple for Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales, a loved-to-the-point-of-being-coverless edition of which looks down from the shelf as I type.

Fables: Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham (story), Lan Medina (penciller), Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton (inkers): Another title I've been meaning to read since I discovered it existed! Legends is the first trade collection of the ten-years-running Fables series from Vertigo, which runs with the conceit that the once-disparate kingdoms of fairy tales and nursery rhymes alike were driven from their homelands by an annihilating Adversary. A lucky few slipped through into the human world--specifically New York City, where the expats now live hiding in plain sight. It's a fun premise, well executed: Snow White as deputy mayor! The Big Bad Wolf (turned human) as sheriff! Prince Charming as a twice-divorced smarmy bastard! This initial arc is a murder mystery--who killed Rose Red?--that also smoothly introduces the setting and major characters. It feels so lovely to begin a new series and love it--with the 13th trade paperback publishing next January, I shan't run out anytime soon.

And the simple, realistic art makes me wish so badly that comic-strip syndicates would get better artists for soap opera strips--I exempt Graham Nolan (Rex Morgan, M.D.) and Mike Manley (Judge Parker) from this, as they're aces with the medium. But poor Frank Bolle (Apartment 3-G) needs to retire. Yes, my comics-nerdery area of expertise is newspaper soap opera strips. WHAT OF IT?

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