Ortberg’s lyrical collection is a delightfully twisted retelling of fairy tales, myths, and literature that is not for the faint of heart. Most tales have their own distinct voice and gender is often fluid. The very first story, The Daughter Cells, a retelling of the Little Mermaid, establishes the otherworldliness and humor Ortberg infuses the rest of the pieces with when the protagonist learns about how property works on land. Many stories include characters with gender fluidity, such as The Thankless Child, in which characters can choose to be husband or wife. The Thankless Child also examines the concept of the gratitude children owe their caretakers. Perhaps my favorite story was The Six-Boy Coffins, which dealt a very satisfying end to a very mediocre villain, while a young woman tries to prove to be worthy of being born.
The Rabbit, a retelling of The Velveteen Rabbit, I was excited to read when it started – and then it got darker, and darker, and darker…until I felt bad about myself for enjoying it. Creepiness oozes out of many of these stories, and others are fun commentaries.
One I did not enjoy as much as others was Some of us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mister Toad. It examines themes of abuse and gas lighting, and one of its influences is a Donald Barthelme short story I have not read. Unfamiliarity with the source material was not a problem for any of the other stories, so I don’t know? It’s possible I just didn’t get it. I’m going to read that short story and see if it makes more sense to me. All in all though, this collection was a quick read and a charmingly macabre way to spend an afternoon.