Imagine this. Well, just do this. Imagine this is a step-by-step list for reading Michael Cunningham’s new book, A Wild Swan.
Watch this standup video of Iliza Shlesinger “The Grabbing Hand”
Then, listen to this song by Sara Bareilles, “Faiytale.”
Sing along if you want to. No one’s actually watching you at home, reading this blog, opening new tabs to watch music videos only to find yourself in the rabbit hole of Youtube karaoke and singing show videos. However, all is not lost. “Cinderella’s on the bedroom floor, she’s got a … crush on the guy … at the liquor store.”
Anyway, both of these are great openers to Michael Cunningham’s new book of remixed fairytales. As we all know, this isn’t quite a new idea, but Cunningham has been appointed (by the white canon, cough cough) as the king of remixing. His crown is a bit tilted, but hey, Julianne Moore was a star in the movie made for his book The Hours so the man is basically royalty. I still stand firmly in the fact that Anne Sexton did it best. However, I quite enjoyed the sarcasm and modernism of A Wild Swan.
My favorite stories in this book were actually the shorter ones, but I really loved the ending of “The Beast” and because Belle has always been my favorite Disney princess, the twist that Cunningham put on her, as believing she’s fabulous due to her own virtuosity was a win for me. He says, “Beauty wanted, didn’t she, to be the pure and faultless one. She was subject to the arrogance of nuns.” It’s always special to me when an author can twist something that I’ve known and loved into something so obnoxiously true that my mind does that purple haze in the Jet.com commercial.
In “Monkey’s Paw,” Cunningham’s rendition, it was perfect for all the sickos out there. A son gets mangled, a monkey paw finds a shelf of its very own. That kind of thing. “Crazy Old Lady” with the witch in Hansel and Gretel tells the revived story of the witch as a Cougar trying to lure budding children, let’s be honest, teenage boys of simple mind, to her candy coated house. The best part of this story was the (break the fourth wall) part where Cunningham describes the upkeep that has to go into gluing and polishing a house made of candy canes and lollipops.
Then there were a solid section of stories kind of about how women’s lives sucked in fairytales. “Steadfast; Tin” is about a couple who find themselves interested in each other, marrying each other in fact, solely because of their broken pieces. “The Beast” has Beauty finding her prince charming, unzipping his beastly exterior like a wardrobe accessory and he has the sparkly, too keen grin, of a beast. Terrifying, really. In “Little Man” the princess marries the man who has threatened to kill her before she spins the straw into gold because every girl wants to marry the man who will tie a rope around her neck instead of gold and diamonds. And in “Her Hair” Rapunzel manages to keep scraps of her hair like your mom kept in the keepsake scrapbook taped to page of miscellaneous data about your upbringing. The prince, blind from the thorns, pets the hair, unattached from the head every evening thinking that his wife still dons the luxury locks.
“Ever/After” is obviously my favorite story in the collection. It’s the only true happy story. A good looking boy marries a plump linebacking princess. They stay connected forever…and after, and their family continues to prosper in a kingdom of normal reality where there are robberies and wineries just like most towns in Southern America. However, it’s a story of hope. A reminder to every girl. ever. that fairytales aren’t actually what the world is made of. Small disasters, and little trickeries happen, but as long as you have people who love you, for you, around you, then you will be handled with care and welcomed into goodness. Maybe that was even too fairytale for what this story says. In my mind, it just made me feel lucky that I have a man that there’s no doubt in my mind would stand by me at any stage of life. I will be senile. He will be senile. We will be full of sentiment.
I really can make every book about me, can’t I?
Anyway, I definitely recommend this book if you like your fairytales with a pinch of salt on the rim. See: Margarita, See: If books had parental advisory, this one would say “sexual content/nudity.” Snow White’s prince even has a sleeping princess encased in glass fetish. The read was quick, a car ride from the mountains, and it’s fun. I found myself wondering how Cunningham came up with all the “behind the scenes” thoughts in the book like Rumpelstiltskin’s aged aunt, Beauty’s confidence in her own goodness, Cougar witches, the after of the prince with still one swan wing. The book isn’t all what happens after, but sometimes what happens during, or what happened before. If Star Wars gets sequels and prequels, so shall the fairies.
PS. The illustrations are at the very least, worth a skim when you find this on the shelves of the library. I would buy the book just to hang the illustrations on my wall. Yuko Shimizu is a genius.