The first or "blue" issue of the Fairy Tale Review is a promise made good. It hardly seemed possible glancing through the announced table of contents that it could deliver, bold as it was with the names of some of my favorite writers: Stacey Richter, Kim Addonizio, Aimee Bender, Donna Tartt. Not to mention that all the contributions in titles or other familiar names had the air of fabulousness about them. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about a lot of new literary magazines and journals and even when they manage to deliver, it’s rarely in full.
The Fairy Tale Review, on the other hand, is a joy of constant surprise throughout. I’ve read it clean through today (after getting it in the mail yesterday) and I can’t remember the last time I honestly liked every piece in a magazine and loved more than one. And while the issue itself feels unified, the individual pieces are very different, some radically so, and it’s a wonder that nothing here feels out of place or even weighs down the whole. Kate Bernheimer is an editor queen.
Kim Addonizio I usually associate with poetry, as she is a kick-ass poet (her latest collection is earthquakingly fierce), but here she delivers a finely turned short story, "Ever After," inspired by Snow White and the seven dwarves. These dwarves have been brought together by Doc, who found a tattered copy of the Book in a dumpster, the Book which told him of seven dwarves and the beauty who would transform them. Given hope of something better by this, he sets about gathering the six other dwarves, naming them and getting them jobs as waitrons at the restaurant Oz where he works. But doubt that the woman will ever come is tearing apart their home. This is a marvelous story, beautifully and tightly woven, modern and yet timeless. There’s not a false note in it, and believe me, I was worried when I started reading — it hardly seemed possible to take the dwarves, cram them in a New York flat and have it work. (Note: She also has a novel out, which I’ll definitely look for now.)
Fragmentary contributions by Joshua Beckman and (Fence co-founder and poetry editor) Matthew Rohrer and Norman Lock are also delightful, evocative and lyrical as such short pieces need to be to accomplish anything memorable. The poetry selections are by turns brutal (Monica Fambrough’s "Girls Will Be Girl Scouts"), fragile (Sarah Veglahn’s "Hum") and both at once (Brent Hendricks’ "Hansel"). A series of six striking prints by Kiki Smith (artist of the cover’s "Born," thumbnailed above) is included, full of stoic, almost inviting girls (consensual is a word used in the transcript of a panel at MOMA on fairy tales in art and literature that is the issue’s last piece) interacting with wolves, a lion, a spindle.
I don’t want to single out every piece (though I could), but if you’ll indulge me just a couple more. Stacey Richter‘s "A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility" is a different kind of princess story, hilarious and sharp, as much of Richter’s work is. The "case study" style of the piece is exploited to great effect and as we witness a meth-addled Princess commandeer the staff of the ER, only to end up once again at the mercy of her Prince, a motorcycle riding villain with a vestigial tail who forces her to cook meth up for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a trailer. Or whatever other reality you see reflected sideways in the story.
Top that off with a wonderful, insightful short essay by Donna Tartt on J.M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson, and how their work has been important to her as a writer. She credits Stevenson with making her a novelist, along with her great-grandmother, who read to her. She singles out especially Kidnapped and Treasure Island, saying:
Essentially, they were the books that turned me into a novelist, and they did partly through the beauty of the language and partly through the sheer gallop of story but mostly because they made me preoccupied with the kinds of questions that novelists ask. Why do smart people make foolish decisions? Why are honest people so vulnerable to lies, and trusting ones so susceptible to flattery and manipulation? If all people are fallible — a mixture of good and bad — at what point does the equation tip and a good person become bad and vice versa?
And can I gush for a moment about how well put together FTR is? It’s simply beautiful, from the onionskin sheet inside the front cover over the This Book Belongs To page to the scrolled The End on the last one. The paper is fine quality, the design attractive and easy to read and filled with nice grace notes like including paragraphs or snippets of each piece in the table of contents and commentary on favorite fairy tales with the biographies. Speaking of biographies, unlike most publications with a variety of contributors, the female to male ratio is 15 women to five men (three to one!). This makes me happy because it does a little to balance out all the other publications (genre mags, I’m looking at you) that resemble more closely the reverse — and in some cases with not even that many female contributors.
I’d reached the point of skepticism on fairy tales and their constant retellings; the last few examples I encountered were disappointing, forced, even safe. But The Fairy Tale Review proves that there is still vital, wild work being done with fairy tale themes, motifs and stories at the roots, lending it strength, complexity and, especially, darkness. Nothing here feels safe. You’d better get a copy.