In his debut short story collection, Sanders reimagines famous fairy tales in updated, often brutal settings.
In this book’s first tale, “Rumpelstiltskin,” the title character is cast as a scamming junkie. The equivalent of the miller’s daughter from the original tale is a young woman named Jane who attends Catholic school, where she’s the accounting club’s president. Her father isn’t a miller but a beverage distributor named Malachy, and the evil king figure is a mobbed-up strip club owner. Sanders delights in juxtaposing the mundane and the mythic. In one moment we’re told that Malachy, “was eventually able to purchase a small beer distribution business including a reasonably maintained truck and a modest core of likewise reasonably loyal customers”; in the next we’re told: “One day, a woman he vaguely recognized deposited a baby girl in his hardened hands, purportedly his daughter, and left.” The “Three Little Pigs” become three small-town Vermont brothers—triplets fighting a predatory factory owner. The third “pig” is known not for a stone house but a stony demeanor, forged in the Vietnam War. In “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the giant that the young man encounters isn’t a physical giant but rather a larger-than-life Russian gangster. Sanders applies the same types of transpositions to five more tales, including “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Snow White.” His stories are often violent and dark—crimes such as rape, murder, and theft appear throughout the book—and are meant for a solely adult audience. However, this is fitting considering the source material; Sanders reconnects to the violence that appeared in the traditional tales and which was later scrubbed out in a process of sanitization. Indeed, this approach is very intentional; in his preface, Sanders locates his project in the histories of folklore, literature, anthropology, and psychology, and his stated goal is to reimagine “the story as contemporary plots informed by our modern psychologies, while hewing to their original storylines.” The adherence to original storylines can lead to some convoluted twists. However, finding out how Sanders makes these plots work is half the fun.
A set of clever takes on well-known stories.