Tag Archives: macabre

A Wild Swan and other Tales by Michael Cunningham

A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham Title: A Wild Swan and other Tales
Author: Michael Cunningham
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374290252
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Fairy Tales
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I think it is extremely difficult to take age-old fairy tales and to turn them to something new. To give them new life, if you would like to call it that. I am also not a believer of taking these fairy tales and giving them a new voice or shape, however when it is done by Michael Cunningham (whose traces we have seen in The Snow Queen), then it is a different matter altogether. Then you know that reading the collection of tales will be nothing short of a surreal experience. The book that I am talking about is “A Wild Swan and other Tales”.

This is one of those books that just happen to readers and there is no noise made around it. It is almost subliminal in every single way – even marketing if you could say that. The book in all has 11 tales and each of them tells you what the original tales forgot to tell or missed out deliberately. I love the spin or the touch these tales have got. Cunningham’s genius but obviously is in the power of telling stories and for me that stood out page by page, story by story.

My favourite stories are “A Wild Swan”, “Jacked” (on Jack and the Beanstalk), “Crazy Old Lady” (based on Hansel and Gretel), “A Monkey’s Paw”, “Steadfast: Tin” and “Her Hair” (which I reviewed yesterday). The entire collection no doubt explores different facets of fairy tales, but for me these six stories stood out and perhaps did what the other five could not.

These stories are about people you might encounter in your daily life: The beast might be your neighbour, Jack could be the person living with his mother who has no ambition whatsoever, you might know Snow White and her prince charming trying to infuse some chemistry back into their marriage or for that matter the perspective of the witch and how two mean children just ate her house through.

I liked the perspectives. I enjoyed knowing about the other side in this book; it isn’t exactly that though – I think it is more to do with: Is there more to these fairy tales? Has all been said about them or are there other details? The art by Yuko Shimizu for every tale are breathtaking and you will go back to them and keep looking and searching for finer details.

The macabre, the perverse, stuff what nightmares are made of, the not so angelic, the terrifyingly real, the twisted, the deranged and damaged and the ones that do not fit well into our so-called society is what these tales focus on. It is something that won’t let you go that easy. I know for a fact that this book was right up my alley. I was talking about it to my friends and cannot stop recommending it.

2016 has begun well with 3 books that I have read and all 3 of them are great reads. As the year progresses, there are only good books to choose and read from.

Michael Cunningham reading from the book:

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387 Short Stories: Day 9: Story 9: The Hand by Patricia Highsmith

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

Title: The Hand
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Taken from: The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

This has to be a story told with great passion and an element of Gothic horror, which comes across quite rarely to an author. Patricia Highsmith – the Queen of Noir mostly, managed it quite well with, “The Hand”. I would have to loved to say more about the story, but all I can say is that it is about a man’s descent into madness and sometimes, also gave me the feeling of him and others being under a totalitarian regime.

The story is not as simple as it seems. It is about a marriage and a lot more than just that. There are elements of misogyny, of parental hate, and also of love, a weird kind of love. Throughout her career, Patricia Highsmith wrote about love, murder, betrayal and more so also of fear and angst. I would put my money on any of her works, any given day.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Is the King of the Crypt toying with us with the title FULL DARK, NO STARS? There is no denying that each of these four short, chilling stories plumbs the depths of darkness of the human condition, but each also shines in its own macabre radiance as four mere humans struggle with events that forever alter the course of their lives. This is not a book to lull you to sleep, unless you enjoy double-checking the locks and looking under the bed before you turn in.

In “1922” Wisconsin farmer Wilfred James takes matters into his own hands when his wife decides to sell off the portion of their land left to her by her father. She plans to accept the generous offer for the 100-acre parcel from a hog processing plant and move to town, with or without Wilfred. He loves farming and foresees the hog business bringing with it putrid odors, noise and ruination of his property value. Leave she does, but not without a chilling assist from her husband, who entices their teenage son to help in her murder and the cover-up of the crime. The longest and most gruesome of the four stories, “1922” describes the real and imagined horrors that visit the murderous husband as his life and that of his son gradually unravel. The story of Wilf’s journey into madness finds Stephen King at the height of his writing prowess.


“Big Driver” introduces us to Tess, a writer of cozy mysteries popular with women’s book clubs. Her readers aren’t fond of the “ooky” parts of mysteries, but when she narrowly escapes death at the hands of a serial rapist and murderer on a lonely stretch of road, she is faced with plotting and carrying out her own form of criminal justice. The real-life solution she creates out of her fertile writer’s imagination is deliciously satisfying as the self-sufficient young woman grapples with how to make sure he doesn’t kill again.

At a mere 34 pages, “Fair Extension” is perhaps the darkest and most thought-provoking tale of this extraordinary literary quartet. Dave Streeter, a successful, middle-aged family man, finds himself suddenly confronted by his own mortality by a virulent cancer. Feeling ill, he pulls off the road for a moment and notices a modest roadside vendor’s booth. Curious, he strikes up a conversation with the odd little man who says he gives people what they want through a fair exchange. The man learns of Streeter’s plight and offers restoration of his health with a 30-day, money-back guarantee if he’s not satisfied. The fair exchange that is required is that Streeter must consciously select a person he dislikes who will be on the receiving end of the trade. “Fair Exchange” is a classic tale of good versus evil, a subject that has been thoroughly explored in some of King’s most famous novels. The brevity with which he treats the subject snaps today’s world into sharp focus. Just how far-reaching and pervasive are the consequences of greed in the pursuit of personal gain?

The last entry is “A Good Marriage.” Darcy Anderson discovers that sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too tidy or too curious. Her entirely happy, if somewhat humdrum, world comes crashing down when she stubs her toe on something beneath her husband’s workbench. In a modern-day tale of Pandora’s Box, Darcy will find herself visited with knowledge best left unknown. Her solution, like that of Tess the mystery writer, is startling and darkly satisfying.

King steers clear of the supernatural this time out, depending on how the reader sees the little man in “Fair Exchange.” He offers the idea that there is the potential in each of us to kill, not only in immediate self-defense, but with diabolical cunning, if the situation warrants. He writes in his self-revealing afterword that each of the disturbing tales was constructed from real-life scenarios. Too often, he feels that the “whys” — the reasons people do the things they do that appear in the headlines — are not explored by the law or in the media. In FULL DARK, NO STARS, he explores these reasons through the eyes of otherwise ordinary people.

Here they are, through a glass darkly.

Here is also a great book trailer from Hodder and Stoughton:

Full Dark, No Stars; King, Stephen; Hodder and Stoughton; Hachette India; Rs. 850