Wednesday, June 8, 2011

You're Doing it Wrong

So, I just started a new job, and while I'm closer to home than I was, I'm still not a big fan of leaving for lunch. So I stay in the break room.  To complete this nerd-nirvana, I bring a book. 

I’ve always been a fan of having a ‘car book,’ which is a book that lives in my car and only gets read while I’m waiting.  i.e. tag renewals, doctors’ offices, oil changes, when I’m inexplicably the first person at the Christmas party and they refuse to seat me until my entire party has arrived.  You get the idea.  I’ve learned that short story collections make the best car books and what I had in my car was My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. ( ) Yes, I got some feedback from new bosses.  Now, this is a book of adult fairytales, most preprints, and it had one of the very bestest ever inside, Kelly Link’s “Catskin,” originally from McSweeny’s, as well as scads of authors I either adored or respected and as a bonus it seemed to represent more than just Western Europe in its origins.  I should have been suspricous when the introduction didn’t mention Terri Windling or Ellen Datlow.  Those ladies are not only anthologists of note, they’ve been the single most active and influential force in keeping fairytales alive in modern literature.  The acknowledgement section did not correct this oversight. 

I’ve done my time in the gender and cultural studies trenches.  I speak the language and can translate the code.  I also know that it is a short slide into self referencing bullshit and that slide is kept well greased.  So it’s not that these stories went over my head.  It’s that they were annoying.

Now, to be fair, I’ll keep the book.  Kevin Brockmeier’s “A Day in the Life of Half Rumplestiltskin” is worth the 17$ I paid for it, to say nothing of Neil Gaiman’s “Orange,” or the fabulous “The Brother and the Bird,” from which the title comes, by Alissa Nutting.  There are a number of strong inclusions here, especially in the front half.


This is a book that badly wants to be shelved in the “Literature” aisle. Hilariously, I found it in Borders’s horror section, where it really doesn’t belong.  It has delusions of grandeur, and design above its lowly station in the genre ghetto.  I suspect this is why its editors fail to credit those that have paved the road they’re walking.  This is a collection of post modern, post feminist, Salon reading, I know I’m smarter than you are, self aware to a nails on chalkboard degree “if onlys.” 

Some of the extra vomitous examples:

-“A Bucket of Warm Spit” Where faux-homey repetitive drivel passes for style

-“Eyes of Dogs” Irritation here because the explanation in the sidebar of the story is more interesting than the story.  It honestly would have done better as an essay.

-“Coyote Takes Us Home” Apparently I’m supposed to be impressed by how many references, metaphors, ideas, and jumbled bits of trash can be compacted into a single story.  Instead I was bored.

-“I am Anjuhmeko” I’ve got nothing. Just nothing.  It was a slog to finish and it made me embarrassed to have ever been involved with cultural studies.  Skip it.

“Whitework” actually may be a secret essay on the mental/emotional results of reading fairy tales because it certainly doesn’t hold up as one. Look, look I’m literature! See? I have no point!

And, best for last,

-“The Story of the Mosquito” wherein the author breaks the fourth wall in half just to make sure that us idgit white folk ain’t put off by a Vietnamese name on a Fairy Princess.  I wish I were exaggerating.  Sadly, I am not.

Most of the remainder are solid, quite a few brilliant—right up until I get to the author explanation.  Because each story comes complete with an off putting blurb that tries to either explain the story to a 3rd grader, comment on its connection to the inspiring fairytale, or (and this was a popular one) prove that the author has an English degree and is self consciously mocking/aware/transcendent/glittering.  Well, not glittering*, that would have been more fun.

Buy or not to buy?

Too close to call.  Moral: pay attention to the fine print.  People who ignore those that have told the story before are lying not just to you, but to themselves.

*Er, no Twilight reference intended.  Damn them; they ruin EVERYTHING!

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