A Personal History-with Fairy Tales
A beautifully written memoir-in-essays on fairy tales and their surprising relevance to modern life, from a Jewish woman raising Black children in the American South—based on her acclaimed Paris Review column “Happily”
“One of the most inventive, phenomenally executed books I’ve read in decades.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
The literary tradition of the fairy tale has long endured as the vehicle by which we interrogate the laws of reality. These fantastical stories, populated with wolves, kings, and wicked witches, have throughout history served as a template for understanding culture, society, and that muddy terrain we call our collective human psyche. In Happily, Sabrina Orah Mark reimagines the modern fairy tale, turning it inside out and searching it for the wisdom to better understand our contemporary moment in what Mark so incisively calls “this strange American weather.”
Set against the backdrop of political upheaval, viral plague, social protest, and climate change, Mark locates the magic in the mundane and illuminates the surreality of life as we know it today. She grapples with a loss of innocence in “Sorry, Peter Pan, We’re Over You,” when her son decides he would rather dress up as Martin Luther King, Jr., than Peter Pan for Halloween. In “The Evil Stepmother,” Mark finds unlikely communion with wicked wives and examines the roots of their bad reputation. And in “Rapunzel, Draft One Thousand,” the hunt for a wigmaker in a time of unprecedented civil unrest forces Mark to finally confront her sister’s cancer diagnosis and the stories we tell ourselves to get by.
Revelatory, whimsical, and utterly inspired, Happily is a testament to the singularity of Sabrina Orah Mark’s voice and the power of the fantastical to reveal essential truths about life, love, and the meaning of family.
People turn to fairy tales because they want to understand the "muddy terrain of the human psyche," writes poet and Paris Review columnist Mark (Wild Milk) in her probing memoir-in-essays. Mark uses fairy tales as framing devices to unpack a range of topics including motherhood, marriage, racism, and mortality. When thinking about how to protect her Black Jewish sons from racism and anti-Semitism, she turns to Pinocchio's Geppetto, who "in the world of fairy tales" is "the mother of all mothers." Bluebeard's wives offer a way to parse the "many lives" Mark's husband had before they married (he has two ex wives). Tom Thumb, the boy who is "caught inside a swallow cycle," reminds Mark that she fears this "dear, sick country" will swallow her sons, and Rapunzel's long hair prompts her to think about her 20-year-old sister, who was diagnosed with cancer and needs a wig. Mark's sharp analysis captures the "cultural resilience" of fairy tales, and her writing hums with lyrical self-reflection ("I was the rattle-ghost that disrupted my friend's kingdom"). Readers will find this full of insight. Agent: Sarah Bowlin, Aevitas Creative.