HORSE, FLOWER, BIRD by Kate Bernheimer


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A collection of quirky, twisted fairy tales for adults touching on loneliness, alienation and male domination; among the author’s previous projects is the children’s book The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum (2008).

Streaked with absurdism, Bernheimer's odd little tales are told from the perspective of girls and young women who strive to rise above their unhappy circumstances through elaborate schemes. A 17-year-old living alone with her bird-hating mother conducts bedroom experiments with her parakeet, gets a job dancing topless in a suspended cage and moves into an apartment where she pursues "friendships that paid" in one room and builds the cage of her dreams for herself in another. A young wife keeps a menagerie in her basement, including a goat and a miniature pony, convincing herself that her indifferent husband might suspect something unusual is going on. A lame girl finds herself bedridden in a miniature cottage straight out of an old German folktale, where she is cared for by her faceless companion, cheered by a candle in the shape of a bluebird and transfixed by a portrait of a mysterious young girl. Unlike classic fairy tales, these are largely free of punishment and moral consequences, even as they allude to such dark subjects as rape, misogyny and the Holocaust. Bernheimer cites Peanuts as one of her influences, and this collection does have a certain comic-book sensibility. In these stories, childhood merges with adulthood, the former being no less difficult to understand than the latter. Except for an out-of-sync tale of sisters exploring themes of love and violence by acting out scenes from Star Wars, the stories are of a piece.

Eight strange, quietly unhinged narratives by an author who reinvents the fairy tale with her postmodern approach.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56689-247-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2010


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