An assembly of international writers assumes the mantle of the Brothers Grimm with contemporary folk and fairy tales.
Bulgarian author Michael Harris Cohen’s story “The Ex-Court Painter, Goya, and the Princess” places readers in the Madrid of Charles IV. Chosen by the king to paint his dead daughter, lonely ex–court painter Angelo discovers that his replacement, Goya, is struggling with his turbulent, final masterworks. While “aging” the dead princess by painting her portrait annually, Angelo falls in love with his creation. The theme of madness buoys other tales in the selections, too. Cheryl Stiles’ deceptively creepy free verse, “Gourmaundeth,” takes its cue from the true story of a modern-day “Menschenfresser,” or man-eater. Joann Oh’s whimsical “Bury Me in Faerie” turns an old woman’s dementia into an end-of-life gift. Many of the stories directly invoke the archetypal characters first recorded by the Grimms in the 19th century. Block re-examines “Snow White” in her strong, ultimately sentimental “Mirror Child.” Hansel and Gretel are re-examined by gifted poet Erin Virgil (“Four Grimm Tales, Revisited”) and, in much longer form, by John Kiste, in the guises of Henry and Gerta in “Henry’s Tale.” Elodie Olson-Coons, in “Fish,” adds a note of disillusionment—and a unique second-person voice—to “The Fisherman and His Wife.” Some authors retain the cruelty and violence of the original folk tales, as in “The Black Widow,” Clayton Lister’s sinister story of twisted love, and the disturbing encounter between a princess and a smooth-talking frog in Maude Larke’s “Persuasion.” But the cleverest of the lot reinvent the folk tale from an American vantage point. Joyce Winters Henderson’s “Misery and Blue” tells how a fight between giants led to the birth of the “Blues.” Tim Belden’s delightful “Once, I Was Avedon” uses spare verse to transform subjects from the iconic photographer’s oeuvre into a modern pantheon. Illustrations scattered throughout the book add a nice touch to the text, but overall, the quality of the collection is uneven: Some pieces are better crafted than others, while more than a few seem overworked or incomplete.
A wily pack of bedside reading for fans of up-and-coming fantasists.