When writing a pastiche, or an reimagining, I think the hardest part for an author to get right is the style. It’s so difficult to mimic the tone without sounding like it’s an impression. Ortberg embraces the matter-of-fact-despite-the-unreality writing style of folklore and fairy tales. Indeed this declaratory style is a large part of what makes fables work at all.
Ortberg revisits popular tales like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Frog Prince,” but she also borrows from lesser known folklore like old Scottish ballads and the philosophical writings of Thomas Aquinas. In these stories, the idea of a damsel in distress or an evil stepmother is turned on its head. Princesses are neither good nor helpless.
While many of the stories have a dark underbelly, most are also funny. The writer skewers these selfish characters using the uncanny and the ridiculous — even in a world of fantasy. Like an aquarium keeper, she points out the silliness of her imaginary world while her characters are trapped within it.
Well, he’s demanding, and solitary, and wealthy as the Devil, if he can afford to set a table for an imaginate dinner party every night just in case a disoriented motorist stumbles in off the street. ~Pg. 104
Some tales, however, are simply strange and unsettling — and leave the reader wondering what they just read. Others simply aren’t as strong in their narrative structure. “Fear Not: An Incident Log” is reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters, using an unlikely first-person narrator, but the conceit doesn’t hold up for as the story goes on.
Overall, this is a strong collection that brings a reader raised eyebrows, snarky laughs and a slightly shaken fairy worldview.
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (March 13, 2018)
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches