[Women in Genre, Day 29] Catherynne M. Valente and a Fairy Tale Narrative
Who reads genre and doesn’t know who Catherynne M. Valente is? I suppose such people exist, but I don’t concern myself with them. I have certainly heard of her work as early as 2008 when a few late-to-the-game reviewers picked up her The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden. First, I took notice of the cover, then the premise and then the actual author’s name, which sounds like a very good name for a genre author – fantastic and melodious.
As with Margo Lanagan, I followed the ripples her work created in the blogging community with the sad realization I couldn’t quite join in on the fun (books cost money, damn it). After this first meeting, I read reviews of Deathless, The Habitation of the Blessed and Palimpsest. My writing buddy Theresa Bazelli urged me to get a copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I’m about to in the near future along with her back catalogue. In short, I already felt deep love for Valente’s work without having read a single page. It’s bizarre; I can’t explain it, but it has happened before multiple times. Call it a reader’s instinct, if you will.
It’s hard to explain why I haven’t been more proactive in hunting her work down. I guess I find it far sweeter to know I have excellent books yet to read and anticipate what wonders lie between the pages. I’m sure you have felt this excitement when you know what you’re going to read next, have it in your grasp but still need to crack it open. This moment before immersion where you’re about to fill your lungs with air and hold your breath – now that’s bliss. I have just been holding mine for too long. This all changed when I received a copy of her Six-Gun Snow White.
I don’t remember the whole quote, but I know Jeff VanderMeer has written about Valente’s skill as an author and explained that she can write herself wings to escape every corner. This is how I felt after reading Six-Gun Snow White for Valente wrote her novella without concern for borders and expectations. Current fairy tale retellings write within the fairy tale narrative to change the big details and produce an alternative time line where the outcome changes significantly. Angela Slatter has mastered this technique to great success and her stories are quite entertaining as they allow for a dark, edgy flavor to a familiar story.
Six-Gun Snow White stands alone in a category of its own, because Valente has lifted skeleton of the story and molded new flesh for it to breathe, talk and walk in. Although readers can identify the fairy tale’s iconic elements such as the evil stepmother, the hunter and the seven dwarves, the story speaks with a decisively distinct voice tinted by the harsh reality of the Wild West, which serves as the backdrop for Six-Gun Snow White. Valente has the rare gift to distill things to their essence and describe them with a few choice words.