Weekend Read: “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi

I can no longer remember where I first heard about "Boy, Snow, Bird" by British author Helen Oyeyemi. That distinctive wicked-witch-of-the-west green cover with the serpent coiling through the title seemed to be everywhere this month. Green, as you probably know, is the color of envy. That's no accident, but not in the way you might think.

The full of surprises novel is a retelling of "Snow White" set in mid-20th century New England, and it hooked me from the first potent sentence:

"Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy."

In 1953, Boy flees to Massachusetts from New York City and her abusive father. Snow is the "beautiful" little girl who becomes Boy's stepdaughter, and Bird is Boy's daughter, whose birth reveals a secret Snow's family has been keeping and transforms Boy into something she didn't expect or want to become. That's all I can say about the plot without spoiling the twists, of which there are many.

The story weaves a spell on the reader through juxtaposing what I'll call hyper-realism (for its strikingly familiar emotional realities) and scary-dream/fairy tale unreality. The latter comes by way of the first person narrators. Generally speaking, first person provides a more interior perspective on events, as we see only what and how the narrator sees and, if we're attentive, through the gaps in that narrative. In particular, first person is integral to the mood and storytelling in this charged, powerful, and lyrical examination of beauty and its perils.

What did you read this weekend?


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