From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved "Children's Stories Made Horrific" series, "The Merry Spinster" takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children's stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.
Readers of The Toast will instantly recognize Ortberg's boisterous good humor and uber-nerd swagger: those new to Ortberg's oeuvre will delight in this collection's unique spin on fiction, where something a bit mischievous and unsettling is always at work just beneath the surface.
Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.
Bed time will never be the same.
Unlike most modern versions of fairy tales, Ortberg's sly, scathing renditions avoid clich s and self-referential edginess, and instead strike directly at the heart. Ortberg (Notes from Jane Eyre) has been deconstructing and rewriting fairy tales and children's stories for some time, most notably on her former website The Toast; this collection of those pieces triumphantly transcends the possible pitfalls, brimming with satirical horror. In the sheer inhumanity of his Little Mermaid's outlook in the cheerfully corrosive "The Daughter Cells" and the Kenneth Grahame meets-Barthelme gaslighting of "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad," Ortberg's voice echoes the standard pragmatic pedagogy of the oral-tradition fairy tale narrator in a charming, bitingly ironic way. "The Rabbit," a brilliant take on The Velveteen Rabbit and one of the most deeply disturbing horror stories of the last several years, uses the emotional power of the original novel to get past the reader's defenses. Throughout, gender roles blur and dissolve to reemerge in unexpected shapes. The book brings the shock of the new and the shock of recognition into play at the same time; it's a tour de force of skill, daring, and hard-earned bravura. This review has been updated to reflect the author's gender transition.
I did not love this book. I barely tolerated it. It was very confusing how the pronouns and names were all mixed up. Girls named Gomer, daughters called he and him, brothers named Sylvia. Some of the stories didn't even seem to have any point at all.