I love reimaginings of familiar myths and folk tales. When authors play with iconic characters, they often highlight new themes and meanings. In this reimaging Helen Oyeyemi molds a classic tale of jealousy and revenge into a discussion on race.
I saw Boy Whitman as Maleficent (although several characters could fill that role), Frank Novak as Prince Phillip, and Boy and Snow as the Sleeping Beauty duo. Snow is cursed with paralyzing Caucasian (I promise that particular term matters in this story) beauty that results in her being manipulative and insincere because she grows accustomed to people treating her special. Boy sees Snow's growing vanity and casts her stepdaughter out of the house. Bird is cursed with being a living reminder of a family history the older Whitmans would rather forget. She is treated as a lesser being by her grandparents; despite being adored by her mother. Inevitably, Boy and Snow become curious about each other.
Oyeyemi explores both sides of the "passing" coin. She details the shame the Whitmans feel for abandoning their heritage and not speaking up when they see other African Americans being treated unfairly. She also inventories the positive effects of passing as a white family for generations. In the end it boils down to what is most important: doing anything you can to improve your child's life or staying true to your heritage?
I was a little disappointed that the magical realism in the story didn't seem to go anywhere. Snow and Bird bond over their shared and overly meaningful ability to not reflect in mirrors. I liked how Bird's admission that she talks to spiders is treated as a child's fantasy by Snow. But in the end, they didn't factor into the ultimate story line. In fact, I was surprised how the trajectory of the plot changed rails at the end by focusing on Frank Novak's origins. His secret identity was intriguing, but it was revealed so late in the book it didn't really add to Boy, Snow, and Bird's stories.
I was also disappointed that Mia jumped into and out of the plot so much. She was there in the beginning and then she was holed up in her house from her parallel story line (which I found unnecessary honestly). Then she's pulled out at the end so the narrative could explain Frank/Frances.
All the time I was reading it, I felt there were two main stories instead of the three the title suggests. I also felt like the voices of Bird and Snow during the exchanging of letters were too similar. There's a big difference between a 14 year old writing and a 21 year old writing. Perhaps Helen Oyeyemi was trying to pull the two characters together, perhaps Bird and Snow were the differently-raced version of the same person. But in order for that to have worked for me, it needed to be more obvious.
Three stars for beautiful writing and the way Snow's character spoils then flowers through the course of the tale. ...more
A formerly wealthy mother and daughter must let out rooms in their house to a young couple in order to get by in post-war England.
________________SPOA formerly wealthy mother and daughter must let out rooms in their house to a young couple in order to get by in post-war England.
Sarah Waters is up there on my list of favorite authors. I enjoy her authentic stories of ordinary characters who were not so ordinary in the Victorian age, the time most of Waters's books are set. Not sure what I mean by that? If you read her, you'll know. She also manages to find a good balance between humor and heft in her novels. I found myself smiling whenever Lily's mother was in the story.
The murder scene tore me up. No, I didn't like him. His whistling, his overstaying his welcome a little too long, his pushing people just a step too far. Yes, I wanted Frances and Lily to find a way to get him out of the way and be together. But just like the characters, I didn't think he deserved what he got, cheating and all. The narrative after that scene was as heavy as the body they carried out of the house. Those intentional touches in tone and mood are Sarah Waters' hallmark.
I also liked how the focus after the murder focused and unfocused on the relationship. When Frances wasn't near Lily, the reader could feel the void until the next time she was there. Lily was always the subject, whatever Frances was talking about.
Four stars because I found Lily to be a bit of a helpless waif at times. ...more
I really liked how Alice's backstory unfolded throughout the course of the novel. Seeing how her backstory sets her up for us to suspect her as the killer added a lot of tension to the story. I also really like how as I was reading about Lora's story, the traditional noir tale was taking place behind the scenes with most of the male characters.
Only 3 stars because I thought the relationship between Lora and her brother bordered on incest and I don't think that was intentional. If it was intentional, I can't think of any reason why the author would want to suggest that type of connection. I know those two characters were only supposed to have each other, but some of Lora's descriptions of Bill seemed like they should have been coming from his wife's thoughts. On the other hand, I like the tension between Alice and Lora. There were times I thought there was a sexual chemistry there and I thought it worked to add fuel to the fire of their frenemy dynamic.
Also, it was a little slow in some spots. Whenever Mike was mentioned, I knew the movement of the plot was going to slow down. Especially when Mike is standing under a dark tree in Lora's backyard during a party and Lora just happens to leave the party and go out there to talk to him (What?). She was in the middle of trying to prove her sister-in-law was a murderer and Mike wants to be all "So, that's it? You're dumping me?" You are not what I'm interested in right now, Mike, step off and let Lora get her hands dirty....more
**spoiler alert** A girl has a special attachment to one of her teachers, while the rest of the adults treat the girl like a monster.
I was very impre**spoiler alert** A girl has a special attachment to one of her teachers, while the rest of the adults treat the girl like a monster.
I was very impressed by the immediate character building and intense pace of the story. WIthin the first few chapters, I HAD TO KNOW where the story was going because I couldn't guess. The genres this novel anchors itself in are not at all my cup of tea. So the fact that I couldn't put the book down is saying something. It was written so beautifully.
I love the slow realization Melanie comes to of what she is and why the adults treat her the way they do. I love how different she was from the other Hungries. Her relationship to Helen was the source of strong hope in an otherwise hopeless novel. I enjoyed the changes the colonel underwent as he got to know Melanie better. The trustworthy/untrustworthy battle inside him. Obviously I hated the ending, but it made sense and fit with the rest of the novel. I also hated the scientist. She had absolutely no redeeming qualities to her, but she was integral to the story and a fine source of tension.
The fact that the fungus actually exists in nature is terrifying as well.
Yeah, I don't really want to linger in this world very long after putting the book down. Horrifying and beautiful....more