Monthly Archives: February 2013

#4: Briar Rose by Robert Coover

Briar RoseI love me a good old fashioned fucked up fairy tale.  Like most of us, I grew up on Disney.  I don’t know when the magic moment came, but the original stories were brought to me and OMFG you guys, it was awesome. I began to devour collections of tales from around the world, and the more violent and fucked up they were the happier I became.  How awesome is it when a fake princess gets red-hot iron shoes nailed to her feet and everyone watches until she dances herself to death?  And when The Little Mermaid returns to the water and becomes sea foam because she can’t bring herself to stab her love in the heart and smear the blood over her legs to get her tail back?  Fantastic. And Briar Rose… Sweet, sweet Briar Rose.  Imagine waking up because you’ve given birth and your baby has crawled up your lifeless body to grab on to your breast and feed.  What in the fucking fuck, right?  Prince Charming McCharmy banged you in your death sleep, knocked you up and took off.

Original tales, retellings, erotica, metaphor, modern day, tales for kids, the familiar motifs… bring them all to me.

And then I opened Robert Coover’s Briar Rose.

Do Not Want

Remember up there when I said I liked the twisted tales?  I was not prepared for this delightful nightmare. The tale is told in three voices: Briar Rose, The Prince, and the fairy who trapped them both.

The Prince follows his story close to the letter.  He hears there’s a princess, no other man has made it in to save her, he might be the chosen one, here come the thorns, let’s move in.  Will he make it?  What will happen?

The fairy is an interesting and fantastic take.  When you put a spell on a princess, you better be prepared to hang out for a hundred years waiting to see if it will ever be broken.

And then there’s Briar Rose.  When you sleep, you dream.  When you dream, shit gets weird.  How much of your dream is real?  How much is formed by snatches of conversation?  How does the sound of a room make its way into your mind?  How does it feel knowing you’re about to wake up, but then no… you slip back into  your death sleep.

And what happens when the world knows there’s a sleeping princess in a room in a castle surrounded by thorns?  What happens if a prince makes it in, looks at the girl and then thinks maybe he doesn’t want a wife and he doesn’t want to be the hero, but as long as he’s here…?  Briar Rose has dream after dream of her prince arriving to wake her with a kiss only to pinch her, to rape her sleeping form, to tie her up for gang rape, to have animals crawl over her body while her parents watch… How much is dream and how much is reality?  How frustrated must a man be to crawl through the thorns only to discover that his kiss isn’t the one to break the spell?  What if the seven dwarves appear only to realize that this sleeping beauty isn’t their Snow White?  A young body, delicate lips… waiting… waiting… waiting.  No one can see, no one can hear…

Meanwhile the fairy waits for Briar Rose’s dream self to appear seeking comfort. She tells her tale after tale, waiting for the moment when the girl realizes that the tales are all true.  But she’s a stupid girl, waiting for her prince, her kiss, and her love.  All those terrible things must not be true because that’s not how tales go.  That’s not how her tale goes.

So the fairy watches over her.  Cleans up a hundred years of menses.  Wipes her bottom.  Keeps her hair brushed.  Prepares her body for the readiness of her prince.  They are forever twined together, these two.  No matter how much the crone fairy scares her, she remains the one constant in Briar Rose’s life and she will continue to return to her for tales, but never for understanding.

So Briar Rose waits.  Yet another prince climbs through the window.  Or is this the first prince?  Her prince?

Her eyes flicker beneath her lids, but still, she sleeps…

Coover’s writing is beautiful.  His words are absolutely gorgeous as they reveal the rape and bestiality and incest and hope.  The rhythm of Briar Rose’s sections are dreamlike and disjointed.  As her body is violated again and again, she drifts away into her dreamy haze.  I stopped several times to reread an especially breathtaking passage.  He crafts a tale of horror using lovely language and I could not stop reading.

I’ve read a lot of retellings, and this is hands down the most fucked up one of all.  And Coover’s gift of words makes it amazing.  Another author could have gone for a debasing tale or a twisted erotica or pure kink, but Coover does so much more.

I have no clue who I’d recommend this to.  If you love fairy tales, then go for it, but prepare yourself to love something completely abhorrent.

#3: This is a Book by Demetri Martin

This Is A BookDo you like Demetri Martin?

If yes, then you will like this book.

If no, then you will not like this book.  Why did you pick it up?  Did you want to confirm that you don’t like him?  Maybe roll your eyes and judge him?  Or were you giving him one more chance to decide that you really don’t like him and it’s nothing personal?

I could end the review here, but I’ll add some of my thoughts.

I like Demetri Martin and enjoyed reading this because I read it in his voice, especially the one liners or quick set up jokes.

This Is A Book is a mix of his awesome drawings, observations and thoughts, short stories, letters to the reader, first person narratives and really just about any genre you can think off in the non-fiction sector.

It’s delightful.

If you have a short attention span or aren’t in love with what you’re currently reading, don’t worry because there’s only a few more pages before you get to the next part.

Essentially this review is “If you like Demetri Martin you’ll like his book.”

Not my best write up, but it is accurate.

#2: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

KindredI really wanted to like this book.  I was so disappointed.

The plot should have led to an amazing book.  It’s 1976, it’s Dana’s 26th birthday, and things are looking good.  She’s married to a white man named Kevin, they’re in their new home, they’re both ready to write more books, and things are really quite great.

Then she gets dizzy and wakes up near a river where she sees a white boy drowning.  She leaps into the water to save him and is incredibly confused when a she turns and finds a gun pointed in her face with an angry white man yelling at her.

Then she’s on the other side of her living room in her new house.  She’s wet and muddy and Kevin can’t figure out how she got over there.

And here’s the first moment where I thought to myself “Oh no.  This isn’t going to be as great as I want it to be.”

Pretend you see someone pitch over in front of you.  You race over to see what’s wrong, to check if she is breathing, if  you need to call for help, or if she just needs a minute.  Your mind is racing as  you try and figure out what needs to be done.  Then she vanishes.  Then she calls your name and you turn around to find her on the other side of the room, wet and muddy.

I don’t know about you, but my reaction would be something along the lines of

Joaquin-Phoenix_OMG

She was right there!  You had your hands on her, then she DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.

Kevin is confused, but it’s more of a “How in the hell did that happen?” angry puzzlement.  Dana tries to explain that she got dizzy then was in front of a river watching a boy almost drown.  Kevin doesn’t really believe her.

DUDE!  SHE DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.  Ignore the part where she is suddenly wet and muddy.  She was right there, then she was not right there, and now she is over there!  You saw it happen!  Why do you think she’s making it up???

ARGH!

Anyway…

After Kevin tries to convince her it was a hallucination or a dream, she tries to get back to the day.  She’s confused, as one would be if they DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP – you know what?  Forget it.  I’m not going to get past this part.

And it happens again.  And again.  And again.

Turns out she’s going back in time to the Southern plantation where her ancestors are from.  The white boy she saved from drowning is Rufus, the plantation owner’s son.  And apparently he’s also her super-great-grandfather.

What in the holy fuck?

No one ever told her that her super-way-back-grandmother Alice Greenwood married a white man. And why is she even here with him?

The second time she appears it’s about five years after Rufus almost drowned.  This time he’s about to burn himself to death while possibly taking down the entire house with him.  Dana puts the fire out and the two of them begin to talk, trying to figure out what’s happening.

The first time Rufus calls her a nigger, she begins to suspect that something terrible is going on.

This time when she returns home to Kevin, she’s covered in blood.

She continues to go back and forth to Rufus.  Each time he’s older and his personality is changing.  She realizes she needs to make sure he has a child with Alice Greenwood or she will no longer exist in California in 1976.

This is why this book should have been awesome.  A modern, strong black woman is going back in time to slavery.  She sees what is happening.  She has to become a slave in order to survive, both in the past and in her present time.  She has to quickly learn the rules to stay safe without giving up on her 1976 self.  It’s confusing and terrifying and had so much potential.

But it didn’t work for me.

It was interesting and heartbreaking to see how Rufus changes from a scared white boy to a cruel slave owner.  Even though Dana is brought there to save him and he knows that they are linked together, he still sees her as his property.  Even worse, he knows that he controls when she comes to him.  Dana becomes more and more trapped and begins to lose her sense of self.

Kevin ends up being pulled into the past with her, and this is where the strongest part of the book happens.  Dana is horrified to see how quickly they both fall into their roles of slavery in the South.  Kevin now owns her and this gives her a sense of freedom because his skin color protects her.  As long as she has a white man to claim her, she can’t be sold.  She sees Kevin slipping into an uneasy comfort as he tries to make things better.  He can’t change society, but he feels like he has a chance to do some good.

I don’t know.  I wanted this book to be so much more.  The idea of a black woman from 1976 being transported back in time to her slavery past was fascinating but it didn’t work for me.  I wish I had written this review soon after finishing the book because I can no longer remember what I wanted the book to be.  Because it was a disappointment, I’ve shrugged it off and forgotten the details that didn’t work.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t really care about anyone.  In order for this story to work, I needed to love these people, and I didn’t.  I don’t know if it became a Tell and not Show situation, but I just didn’t care.

Mostly I was frustrated at how Dana lets Rufus live.  I don’t know if it was because she needed him to get Alice pregnant or what, but it didn’t fit in with her character.  She’d get angry but then… eh.  She’d try and teach him that things would be different, but then… whatever.  She’d feel that she was in danger, but not really because he knew she needed to be kept safe.  The two of them are completely locked together but there’s no sense of balance.  Rufus is able to control her in his time because he’s white, but it felt like an afterthought, which makes zero sense because it’s the entire point of the book.

I don’t know.  I wanted it to be more, and it wasn’t and that was depressing.