Harmon (The Man Who Learned to Walk in Shoes That Pinch, 1993), in her latest collection of fables, tackles 21st-century vices.
Greed. Deception. Impatience. From Aesop to Andersen, such human failings have provided no end of material for masters of the morality tale. Harmon faithfully follows suit in her newest collection, and while the subject matter may not have changed, the circumstances of her characters certainly have, as the author sets her stories in the present day and provides modern interpretations. In “One Piece of Perfection,” for example, an idealistic architect’s vision of an egalitarian, green building is undone when several tenants undermine her design; the story raises the question of whether it’s worth fighting for equality if it will constantly be challenged. “The Woman Who Loved Her Husband” explores the cost of trying to control another person—even with good intentions. The young woman at the center of “Freeing the Genie” moves up professionally, thanks to some magical assistance, but realizes what she truly desires is to be in love. In many tales, Harmon plays with the interaction between needs and wants and the potential repercussions of ill-chosen words and actions. Although some stories tend toward the fantastical (genies, talking animals), most are rooted in real life and are, as such, relevant and relatable for both young and adult readers. However, not every tale provides a clear moral; Harmon maintains that the Victorians only introduced this concept “to make sure kids got the message.” The author also occasionally falls back on dated concepts and language. For example, in “Two Young Farmers,” she shows how two people can, with open minds, find solutions to seemingly impossible problems, but its references to “gold pieces” and “coppers” will likely take readers out of the 21st century.
A fresh take on a timeless storytelling genre.