Daily Archives: March 27, 2018

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster

Title: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
Author: Mallory Ortberg
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1250113429
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Fairy Tales were never meant for children, I suppose. Over the years, and along the way, they became for children. No wonder there are so many retellings and translations of the true fairy tales from different regions of the world, in order to maintain them for what they were: sinister. “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror” by Mallory Ortberg is one such book of dark and playful stories based on classic folk and fairy tales, each one told with a twist of feminism, gender fluidity (at least from what I could make out for some of them) and more.

This is not a parody on fairy tales. This is what I thought when I picked it up but it turned out to be way ahead and progressive than that. Mallory not only understands these fairy tales in great detail and with an amazing insight, but she also is aware that cultures, time, and tellers shape the story and hence her stories do not at any time seem jaded. Moreover, her stories seem more real, given the times we live in and rightly so. Again, might I add: not meant for children.

I cannot even discuss these stories without giving away anything, so I will not. What I will say though is that “A Thankless Child” is one story that has stuck in my mind (a retelling of Cinderella if you please) and a very strange one at that. What I loved is that Ortberg is not here to shock you.

The stories are to break stereotypes, to get away from the prejudice and bias we create and above all to be able to think and feel the way you want to. There is also a sense of humour which is evident in the retelling of The Beauty and the Beast. I could go on and on about this one, but all I must say is that you just have to read this collection of stories.

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The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot AttendantTitle: The Parking Lot Attendant
Author: Nafkote Tamirat
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250128508
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Parking Lot Attendant is such a weird book at times and maybe because of all its oddities it works brilliantly for the reader in so many places. The plot is this: An unnamed young woman (a lot of unnamed narrators or protagonists in books these days), who has just recently become a resident on the island of B with her father tells the story of how things came to be. Of why she and her father had to come to this Utopian styled community, leaving their home in Boston. That essentially is the crux of the story. No wait. There is more.

 

There is Ayale, the shady parking lot owner in his mid-thirties who the woman was attracted to while she was living in Boston. Their life as Ethiopians in Boston (this has to be mentioned. You will know why when you read the book). The book is about the woman and her relationship with Ayale, her father and how she has to flee the country with her father. I can’t give away any spoilers, but I guess you get the drift.

 

Tamirat’s writing is refreshing. It doesn’t mostly follow the linearity of time – things happen and jump from one time track to another, so it does take a lot to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the events, it is an easy ride. The story seems awkward but it is anything but that.

 

There is a lot going on – coming of age, the woman’s relationship with her father, the commune and its principles (will almost make you relate to the world we live in) and Ayale’s relationship with the woman (which is so twisted that you have to read it to believe it). “The Parking Lot Attendant” is engaging, stumbles at times, confusing as well, but redeems itself beautifully with the writing and characters. I loved it nonetheless.

 

 

Ms. Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami

Ms Ice SandwichTitle: Ms Ice Sandwich
Author: Mieko Kawakami
Publisher: Pushkin Press, Japanese Novella Series
ISBN: 978-1782273301
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Now, we think we have read enough stories about first love but it is never enough. First love has its own charm of innocence, heartbreak, and above all the coming-of-age if it happens and when it does, sooner or later. “Ms Ice Sandwich” is one such book of first love, of young love, awkward love that is very happy being just an observer sometimes with want for nothing. You know the kind of love I am talking about, don’t you? We’ve all been there, in one way or another, haven’t we? This book is about those tender moments and I wish weren’t so short though.

A boy is obsessed (well, I wouldn’t call it obsessed, but more like enchanted) with a woman who sells premade sandwiches. He visits the supermarket every day just so he can look at her face, even if it means buying sandwiches he particularly doesn’t enjoy. He just needs to see her and feel the closeness. And in all of this, there are his relationships with his mother and grandmother (rather flimsy but nonetheless important to the narrative). And one fine day, his world crumbles and that’s for the reader to find out how.

The narrative is restrained in so many places and that  is what I guess works for the book. There is drama, some amount of humour, introspection and above all so many moments of kindness in the book that you cannot steer away from it. The two main characters are nameless and that doesn’t bother you at all. I didn’t even think about it till I reached the end of the book. Kawakami’s writing and the translation by Louise Heal Kawai doesn’t  make you want  for more. The writing and the tone of the book is just perfect.  If you’ve never read Japanese literature before, this is a great place to start. If you have, this is a great place to explore it more.