Memoirist and psychologist Slater (Opening Skinner’s Box, 2004, etc.) explores the fairy tale.
Narrative psychotherapy, she explains in the introduction, is a technique first articulated in the 1980s. The idea is that you can do therapy through writing, not just talking. Indeed, when Slater finds her conversations with a patient stuck in small talk, she will ask him to write, which somehow helps both therapist and patient move to the next plane. She believes that fairy tales are especially useful in narrative psychotherapy; their stark images, iconic figures and deceptively simple prose allow the writer to distill. In her clinical practice, Slater has written fairy tales and asked her patients to finish or somehow play with them. She has also written fairy tales for herself, and includes 16 of them here. Some are new versions of classics; “Ruby Red,” for example, retells the story of Snow White from the perspective of her stepmother—who is really her mother and a self-described “perimenopausal bitch.” Other stories come wholly from Slater’s imagination. In one, an over-the-hill mother gives birth to Charles Darwin; in another, a depressed queen finds her way from sadness to happiness. “Defenestration” charts subtle fissures and shifts in the marriage of an unnamed man and woman. Black-and-white illustrations reminiscent of old woodcuts encourage the sense that readers are delving into a familiar yet foreign world where anything might happen. Mermaids might enroll in prep school; longed-for daughters might hatch out of eggs. The text resonates throughout with Slater’s hallmark themes: motherhood, illness, puberty, defining and holding onto whatever it is that makes you really yourself. These curious stories will not be for everyone. But those willing to follow the author into the world of forests, myths and symbols will be richly rewarded.
Strange, puzzling, yet somehow forcefully compelling.