I have both versions of this illustrated story. The text is largely similar (partially adapted for Russell's version) in both fairy stories, but with...moreI have both versions of this illustrated story. The text is largely similar (partially adapted for Russell's version) in both fairy stories, but with different illustrators. Both versions are equally beautiful in their own way, and the story itself is lovely and ethereal.(less)
Two great little stories inspired by art from Lisa Snellings-Clark. In Gene-ish fashion, these are dark stories, one in particular is the startling an...moreTwo great little stories inspired by art from Lisa Snellings-Clark. In Gene-ish fashion, these are dark stories, one in particular is the startling and gruesome stuff of nightmares. An excellent read.(less)
I've read quite a few reviews of this book saying that it was patchy in places, or it bogged down in the historical parts, the character not being bel...moreI've read quite a few reviews of this book saying that it was patchy in places, or it bogged down in the historical parts, the character not being believable in others, etc.
I have not read the novel, so perhaps this is true. As an audiobook however, it was magnificent. The story was compelling, the history inseparable from the development of Calliope, and the voice of the reader - Kristoffer Tabori - was genius. His character variations made an interesting concept into a fascinating narrative of a little girl who was born different.
Middlesex elbows its way into my top 5 favorite listens with her awkward limbs sticking out to both sides like a boy's, hips swaying like a girl's.(less)
Boy Novak is a complicated person, a mix of action and passivity, both likeable and off-putting. She decides to run away from her abusive father, she...moreBoy Novak is a complicated person, a mix of action and passivity, both likeable and off-putting. She decides to run away from her abusive father, she sleepwalks into her job and the stability it accidentally provides. She embraces an idea of motherhood, and rejects it later for a different idea of motherhood (instead of attempting to integrate her ideas.) She never quite feels to the reader like she inhabits her own marriage, maybe she loves her husband, maybe she is just looking for an escape.
These are hard characters. They have tough shells, they all hide the truth, sometimes from even their own selves.
Coming into this book, I expected a retelling of Snow White, and the dust jacket led me to believe that it would be primarily a story about race and appearance. But this book is as much about mothers as it is about race. It's about the masks we wear and the mirrors that don't see us, or don't reflect the way we see ourselves. How much do we have to deceive ourselves in order to deceive others? How much do our expectations influence our perceptions?
One of the themes I found most affecting in the novel was this notion of invisibility. The mirrors do not always reflect the person. Children are sent away. Snow is always described in superlatives. She never speaks as a viewpoint character, and even when she writes letters to her little sister, Bird tells her she is not allowed to speak of certain subjects. We catch only the tiniest glimpse of how Snow sees Snow, she is erased, invisible. She's only a beautiful child, a perfect little girl, arresting, evil, absent. Her entire existence is defined and characterized by her (white) beauty.
In an ironic twist, Clara, Snow's aunt (view spoiler)[who was sent away for being too dark - jeopardizing the family's ability to pass - (hide spoiler)]might be the most well-adjusted character in the story. (view spoiler)[But even after being sent to live with her Aunt Clara, others still do not or cannot see Snow. (hide spoiler)]
Teenaged Snow expects that that when she is out with her black friends, people will perceive her as a black woman; "I used to assume that when I'm with colored people the similarities become obvious," but strangers, seeing her pale skin, perceive her as a white woman who is slumming. The dichotomy exists that she is both with her friends, and a danger to her friends. And in some ways, these perceptual lies are a danger to her as well: "I felt as if I'd left my body, felt as if I were standing over on the other side of a room, watching as a big lie was being told about me." But this has been the reality of her entire life, so how can she pick one moment to stand up and say THIS is the truth.
What is seen through the glass, darkly, is that Snow is full of rage over her erasure by her family. But everyone is locked into their pretense, the lie and the invisibility is their entire life. It's this rage that takes my breath away, this incredible, subtle and powerful picture of not being seen, of being an icon in a story. Even the mirrors are in on the deception.
Her Uncle (black, not passing,) tells a story in which he clearly places himself in danger, for a "joke," which horrifies his (passing) in-laws, who clearly draw the parallel between his actions and their bloody cultural history and the relatively recent (real-life) murder of Emmett Till, and yet, in their societal position as "white," they haven't ever lived with the direct threat, only with the constant fear of discovery. The decision of half of this family to "worship white" and pass as white, creates an odd disconnect with the family as it sits around talking. Who are these people if they decide to be something other than what's in their genes? Are they betraying their heritage, or are they trying to minimize their disadvantages? If we reduce it to being able to "pass" into the country club, it sounds so mercenary, but in the context of broken bottle weapons at nightclubs, being denied work opportunities and fair pay... and always, Emmett Till, who is to say they wouldn't do the same if they could?
Time is a little wonky in this story too, as if things happen only when they become relevant to the tale, unmoored from the event's "real" timeline, forward or backward. In the end, Oyeyemi's characters come together in a strange functional/dysfunctional, seeing/unseeing way. And they just wander off, leaving the reader turning the last page back and forth, willing the story to have an ending. There's not an ending, there's a moment where they've caught hold of a bit of new information, and they go off to see if they can make it look the way they see it in their minds. The reader is left behind with a feeling that she is no longer invited to observe this part of the story.
There were parts of this novel that resonated so strongly with me, I found myself holding my breath, while I reread the passage. Other parts made me uncomfortable without being able to explain to myself how and why, and I will continue to think about this story, long after it has been read and put on the shelf.
Last night I dreamed about mirrors that tell a different story.
(More thoughts in the first comment.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)