Friday, November 20, 2015

Book Review: "A Wild Swan and Other Tales" by Michael Cunningham

The idea of putting twists on the fairy tales we know and love isn't a new one. Many books have given these familiar tales a modern spin, a more macabre tone, even made them more politically correct, as the originals were decidedly not!

In A Wild Swan and Other Tales, Michael Cunningham, one of my favorite authors, tries to humanize the tales a bit, modernizing them, and imbuing many with more emotion and character development than the originals offered. He looks at some familiar tales—Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin—and others I wasn't familiar with. All in all, it's an interesting exercise, one which I think had mixed results.

As I've said many a time before, if a story hits me emotionally without making me feel manipulated, it definitely resonates. The stories I liked best in this collection either moved or amused me, sometimes both. My favorites included "Jacked," in which Jack (of beanstalk fame) is a lazy man-child whose encounters with the giant provokes intriguing feelings in the giant's wife; "Little Man," an amusing and moving take on Rumpelstiltskin; "Beasts," an interesting twist on Beauty and the Beast; "Steadfast; Tin," a story about a couple which reminded me more of "How I Met Your Mother" than any fairy tale; and my favorite, "Ever/After," a moving look at the idea of happily ever after.

I love the way Michael Cunningham tells a story, and I've always found that characterization is among his many strengths, so those stories in which the characters were front and center worked best. A few of the stories were odd, and one was told in such a way that I wasn't exactly sure who was narrating it or what was happening.

Overall, this was an intriguing and worthwhile read. If you like fairy tales, give this a try—it's not quite the tales you know, but they'll definitely get you thinking.

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