My Father He Ate Me (And then the shiny red apple…)

This book….took me three months, a collection of my hair in different colors and curling states, and has left me with forehead wrinkles and cracked teeth.   I kid you not.  Probably the toughest book I’ve ever had to get through in my life and I promised myself three days ago that I would finish it by the end of October or give up entirely.  It does seem fitting that I finished it on Halloween night and gave rise to the headless horseman, and the men who stroke their blue beards and inhale deep cigar smoke.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, or you just know me personally, then you know it’s very rare I attempt anything close to a happy ending.  My tone in poetry elicits my brother’s music: suicide doom music.  For having magical golden locks on my head, I tend to confer more with the dead in my poems (my dead grandmothers most importantly) and I tend to kill off various characters, some of whom don’t even get actual names.  If you are a Brothers Grimm fan then you have experienced the kind of fairy tale that has very few fairies, and more things that go bump in the night.  I’m really unsure of whether their last name gave us the word “grim” in today’s societal meanings, but it should have.  If there was a book about cannibalism, they would have written it.

What I’m saying is, Disney has created this idea of fairytales, that they all end in happiness.  And yet sometimes they (the masters of wonder) can’t even get away with it.  Examples: Dumbo, Lion King (I refuse to believe that’s a happy ending…so he marries the hot female lion…so what), Bambi, and Fox & the Hound.  All of these movies have some cross fire with death at some point, or sadness, or loneliness, all of the things allied with the lowly, the forlorn, the alone, the stranger.

I was expecting the fairytales in this book to be just as menacing, leave me jittering under the covers, unable to turn the flash light off because things are peering at me from the closet crack.

I was sorely disappointed.

First off, don’t make me read a 542 page book filled with “famous” authors who think it’s good enough to have their name on a piece of work, rather than their name on a piece of “good” work.  Joyce Carol Oates, I’m most disappointed in you.  Not only was that a to-do list of Bluebeard but it was a sad two-page rendition of which I’ve seen much better.  You’ve written better sentences than that sad and already told a thousand times tale.  You’ve probably made up better single words.  Ugh, Joyce.  What’s most disappointing is these authors know who I am.  They know I’m that sparrow of a girl, wispy and delighted to get my hands on a mint green fairytale book, waiting to crack the spine (and spill something on it so it’s officially mine, don’t tell any of the books I plan on buying later that they may get second degree burns from their reader)..they know that I see their names on the cover and think, “this has got to be some sort of treasured jewel, I’m so lucky to have found this.”  Just because you’ve risen to the throne of having your name on the cover of the book, doesn’t mean the work inside merits that name hyped in fancy lettering.  The only woman deserving of their name on this cover is Francine Prose because once again, she knocked it out of the park.

And that’s how this book was:  a swing and a miss.  People on goodreads.com were saying, “depending on the day I was reading was whether I loved or hated this book.”  No, it’s nothing like that.  It’s that the quality of writing is so low, and so unexpected that you think, is it just me or does this story suck?  Is it just me or does this story make absolutely no sense and the author has flung in a few spanish lines to make it even more indecipherable without a personal translator (thank you, google).  And then there’s the high expectations that deflate like a deathly air balloon when you dive into a story by Oates, or Cunningham, or Addonizio (her’s wasn’t as bad as the others) and you know they’re your heros and then all of a sudden they’ve dropped to high school poetry class writer status.  It’s disheartening.  It’s sad because there are GOOD writers out there, who would have probably deeply deserved to be in this volume of tales (all 542 FUCKING pages) and yet, just because your last name is Bender, you get in.  Because you’ve published something in The New York Times, or in Poetry.  Fuck that pretentious bullshit.  If the writing isn’t there, it just isn’t there, I don’t care if you’re Mark freakin’ Twain.  (I love you, Mark Twain…you’re worth it everytime, even in my nephew’s children’s book rendition of Huckleberry Finn).

I think it’s a crime against the literary world, a crime against the printing press, a crime against the forest of trees you had to kill (all those acorns the squirrels could have felt nourished on, filled their cheeks with), a crime against the written word to publish a story based solely on a name.  Sometimes writers don’t ripen with age, sometimes they do.  Sometimes you can’t write at all in the beginning and then you find your voice, or your story, or in my case your stiff plot. But to publish something because it has a famous name on it and expect people like me to actually accept these stories as something valuable to keep hidden away in my chamber of chambers, my fairytale heart…no, you don’t deserve that.  I will forever protect my little bleeding speck of a heart from anything with that sort of damage.

It’s book abuse.  That’s what it is.  It’s abusive, as an editor, to publish this bullshit, and it’s abusive to your reader who has worked her pointer-finger and thumb, through the licking of page turning, and the smudges of various food products through your five-hundred and forty-two pages of complete and utter nonsense.

There are four, max, four stories in here that I could actually recommend voraciously.  FOUR.  Out of forty.  Either Kate had a deadline or Kate wanted the big names, or Kate didn’t take the little guy writer seriously who was writing in his non-heated apartment in the suburbs of Minnesota hoping to just get this one magical story published so that he could tuck his little writing hands away in his coat pockets and be something else, be something that isn’t a writer – anything.  But Kate didn’t.  She took the easy way out, she published names instead of stories.  It’s like teaching a subject rather than students.

It makes me sick.

Other factual information you may need to know:

  • The contributors each chose their own fairytale to work with, some were expected, some were not.  A few were translated, and a few brought out diverse cultural differences in fairytales, or just diverse fairytales in general.  This especially evident in “Coyote” which comes at the end of the book and is almost a cultural commentary on immigration (illegal or not).  Again, with Oates (since I’m especially outraged with her), she chose Bluebeard, which is classic Oates as she is always the woman who is standing up for the women collective.
  • One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that after each story, the contributor has a chance to explain themselves.  One of my favorite of these was Francesca Lia Block (Author of Weetzy Bat among others)  who explained after writing her fairytale, she lost partial eyesight and how this real life event was reflected in her work.  Art and life coming together, ahhhhh!  Another one that interested me was The White Cat by Marjorie Sandor because she discusses the near-death of her husband at the time of writing and how her fairytale went from story, to plea, to prayer.  It’s amazing sometimes how life re-imagines art for us.
  • A few of my favorite tales were:
    • My Brother Gary Made a Movie – Sabrina Orah Mark
    • The White Cat – Marjorie Sandor
    • A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility – Stacey Richter
    • Hansel and Gretal – Francine Prose
    • A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin – Kevin Brockmeier
    • The Swan Brothers – Shelley Jackson
    • The Warm Mouth – Joelle McSweeney
    • Dapplegrim – Brian Evanson
    • The Mermaid in the Tree – Timothy Schaffert
Let me say lastly, that I would have really appreciated if this book was set up differently.  I don’t like how the same stories are set together, or the same cultures are set together, or the same locations are set together (i.e. these are all Italian fairytales).  I think that ruins a bit of the mystery.  I don’t want to know that the next four stories are Japanese, I don’t want that told to me from a books point of view, I want to discover the culture in the writing without being poked with it by the numerical pages of the book.  I think short story collections are always so interesting based solely on this point.  You really have to think about how that book was analyzed cover to cover, how it was put together, why one story goes next to another, why two stories share a bed, maybe even a page.  Why two characters across one-hundred pages are joined together in two totally different stories, with a mix of life in-between.  It’s subconscious while we’re reading to think about this, we take it in without actually realizing we’re doing it, but it’s such a powerful thing between reader and author.  I think Bernheimer has ruined a bit of this sweet, secret whispering between writer and reader, this allure.

That being said…here are some links that may have a different opinion, and/or where you can investigate for further reading:

  • Fairytale has an online issue on their website.  I have not read it so I can’t be sure I’m not feeding you complete and utter shit, like the at least four-hundred pages of brown ass hole mush I just read, but here is the link to that.  I’m hoping this can resuscitate my fairytale heart once I take a stab at reading it.
  • A less hateful review, dare I say…happy review of this book from Art & Literature at Wordpress.
  • Blog Critics Review
  • Pank Magazine Review

8 thoughts on “My Father He Ate Me (And then the shiny red apple…)

  1. Bea Mannes says:

    Wow, that was an intense review. I think I will read the one story by the one author you said never dissapoints, and then, I will put the book down.

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