How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales: and Other Stories by Kate Bernheimer is officially released in August, but it is already shipping from booksellers and available in eformat, too. Some of the stories have been previously published. There is a great review at Heavy Feather.
One might call Bernheimer a bit of a fairy tale activist. In her essay “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale,”featured in The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays From Tin House, she notes their “critical underappreciation”—both with respect to the role they play in our literary tradition and the insights they might offer contemporary fiction writers—owing in part to their long standing affiliation with women and children. But to ignore fairy tales, according to Bernheimer, is to ignore an artistic treasure trove. “Fairy tales are the skeletons of story,” she writes. “Reading them often provides and uneasy sensation—a gnawing familiarity—that comforting yet supernatural awareness of living inside a story.” Their governing form, which usually emphasizes elements of abstraction, flat characters, and intuitive logic, flies in the face of Conventional Fiction Workshop Wisdom. And yet, by forgoing the usual character-driven, show-don’t-tell modus operandi, fairy tales can tap into narratives that feel both familiar and wildly innovative. That dissonance is partly what makes How A Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales so seductive. As readers, one of the reasons we’re able to inhabit Bernheimer’s stories is because, as fairy tales, they’re not already crowded by other souls. Or perhaps, as Bernheimer suggests in her essay, because the fairy tale tradition is already embedded inside us.
Kate also recently had a piece published on NPR, Surviving An Adult World In Fairy Tales, And Real Life:
These aren't escapist fantasies; they're stories of kids facing unimaginable terror.
As Tatar writes, in fairy tales children must find radical ways to "survive a world ruled by adults." This is our grim reality. And it's the grim reality of these children at the border as well. Of course, not all endings are unhappy. Remember Hansel and Gretel? They manage to shove that witch in the oven, and they emerge from the forest ... alive.
But back to Kate's book, which I haven't acquired yet, but wanted to announce here since I saw it was shipping.
Elegant and brutal, the stories in Kate Bernheimer's latest collection occupy a heightened landscape, where the familiar cedes to the grotesque and nonsense just as often devolves into terror. These are fairy tales out of time, renewing classic stories we think we know, like one of Bernheimer's girls, whose hands of steel turn to flowers, leaving her beautiful but alone.
Kate Bernheimer is the author of the short story collection Horse, Flower, Bird and the editor of My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales and the journal Fairy Tale Review.
Table of Contents:
The Old Dinosaur
Pink Horse Tale
Tale of Disappearance
The Librarian's Ta1e
Professor Helen C. Andersen
Oh Jolly Playmate!
How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales
Babes in the Woods
The Girl with the Talking Shadow