Fairy tales for our times from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Hours
A poisoned apple and a monkey's paw with the power to change fate; a girl whose extraordinarily long hair causes catastrophe; a man with one human arm and one swan's wing; and a house deep in the forest, constructed of gumdrops and gingerbread, vanilla frosting and boiled sugar. In A Wild Swan and Other Tales, the people and the talismans of lands far, far away—the mythic figures of our childhoods and the source of so much of our wonder—are transformed by Michael Cunningham into stories of sublime revelation.
Here are the moments that our fairy tales forgot or deliberately concealed: the years after a spell is broken, the rapturous instant of a miracle unexpectedly realized, or the fate of a prince only half cured of a curse. The Beast stands ahead of you in line at the convenience store, buying smokes and a Slim Jim, his devouring smile aimed at the cashier. A malformed little man with a knack for minor acts of wizardry goes to disastrous lengths to procure a child. A loutish and lazy Jack prefers living in his mother's basement to getting a job, until the day he trades a cow for a handful of magic beans.
Reimagined by one of the most gifted storytellers of his generation, and exquisitely illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, rarely have our bedtime stories been this dark, this perverse, or this true.
The latest from Cunningham (The Snow Queen) offers elegant, sardonic retellings of 10 iconic fairy tales, including "Beauty and the Beast," "Jack and the Beanstalk," and "Rapunzel." Using present-day details and distinctly adult observations to imagine what happens before, after, and behind the familiar narratives, Cunningham explores the often disastrous transformations wrought by love and need. Having expected "ruin to arrive in a grander and more romantic form," the title character in "Crazy Old Lady" is undone by loneliness long before a tattooed pair of siblings ("those young psychopaths, those beaten children") arrive on her candy doorstep. An unnamed but recognizable Snow White conducts a bedtime negotiation with a partner still erotically fixated on her past; in "Little Man," a gnome spins straw into gold to win the child he desperately longs for, something "readily available to any drunk and barmaid who link up for three minutes in one of the darker corners of any dank and scrofulous pub." Though grounded in the inevitable disenchantment of human life "Most of us can be counted on to manage our own undoings," the introduction notes wryly Cunningham's tales enlarge rather than reduce the haunting mystery of their originals. Striking black-and-white images from illustrator Shimizu add a fitting visual counterpoint to a collection at once dark and delightful.