“Pretty is as pretty does,” my grandmother must have told me thousands of times. And one can never really believe a mirror anyway.
At least not in Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi which begins: “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years, I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.” This is the voice of Boy Novak, a girl. The first narrator. The daughter of a brutal and sadistic rat catcher whose absent mother is never discussed, living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the year nineteen hundred and thirty-something.
Boy runs away to idyllic Flax Hill, Massachusetts, a town where “people make beautiful things . . . [where they are] interested in the process, not the end product.” Boy marries a jewelry artist named Arturo and becomes stepmother to his young daughter Snow. But after Boy gives birth to Bird, she sends Snow away.
In Boy, Snow, Bird, it is not only the mirrors that are untrustworthy. Things are more often than not the opposite of how they appear. This is the first novel by Ms. Oyeyemi I have read, but according to the New York Times, she is thirty years old and a five-time novelist. Besides the fact that I hate her a little bit for that accomplishment, I love her writing. The following is from the section of the novel narrated by Boy’s daughter, Bird, who also has an issue with mirrors.
Sometimes mirrors can’t find me. I’ll go into a room with a mirror in it and look around, and I’m not there. Not all the time, not even most of the tie, but often enough. Sometimes when other people are there, but nobody ever notices that my reflection’s a no-show. Or maybe they decide not to notice because it’s too weird. I can make it happen when I move quickly and quietly, dart into a room behind the swinging of a door so it covers me the way a fan covers a face. Maybe I catch the mirror off guard somehow. It starts to look for me — “look for me” isn’t quite right — I know mirrors can’t see. But the image in the glass shifts just a little bit off center, left, then right, then back again, like its’ wondering why it isn’t reflecting all that standings in front of it. I know a girl just came in; now where’s she at?
In its review, the New York Times says, “Oyeyemi picks myths and fairy tales because she sees the blood and guts behind the glitter and ball gowns. In essence she’s a writer of rather enchanting horror stories, but like the candy-colored blood of the dead ballerinas in Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film “Suspiria,” her violence is all the more gruesome for its misleading pulchritude.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/books/review/boy-snow-bird-by-helen-oyeyemi.html
The author herself admits as much, saying she writes retold fairy tales. “And fairy tales teach lessons, she says. Lessons like ‘Everything that you see is not necessarily what it is. You have to find another way to know things. You have to find another way to know things. There is inner vision. And then there’s exterior vision. There are levels of seeing.'” http://www.npr.org/2014/03/07/282065410/the-professionally-haunted-life-of-helen-oyeyemi
In Boy, Snow, Bird, beauty is desired, deceitful and dangerous. And perhaps that is the point of the Brothers Grimm original tale as well.
Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.
Soon after that she had a little daughter, who was as white as snow, and as red as blood, and her hair was as black as ebony, and she was therefore called little Snow White. And when the child was born, the queen died.
After a year had passed the king took to himself another wife. She was a beautiful woman, but proud and haughty, and she could not bear that anyone else chould surpass her in beauty. She had a wonderful looking-glass, and when she stood in front of it and looked at herself in it, and said,
“Looking-glass, looking-glass, on the wall,
Who in this land is the fairest of all?”
The looking-glass answered,
“Thou, o queen, art the fairest of all.”
Then she was satisfied, for she knew that the looking-glass spoke the truth.
I highly recommend Boy, Snow, Bird for your book club.
Just for giggles, I’ve designed a menu based on Walt Disney’s Seven Dwarves (none of whom make an appearance that I can see in Boy, Snow, Bird).
Doc: Mix a pitcher of Gin & Tonics and pour into a beaker. (Tonic originally contained quinine as a malarial prophylactic.)
Sneezy: Anything with black pepper. Steak au poivre, chicken with black pepper are the two that come immediately to mind. Here are ten more: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/04/peppery-peppercorn-recipes-truffles-monkfish-gratin-10-best
Grumpy: Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip. Spicy, yummy and just hot enough to put a little fire into your soul.
2 (10 ounce) cans chunk chicken,
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese,
1 cup Ranch dressing
3/4 cup Tabasco
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
|Heat chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, until heated through. Stir in cream cheese and ranch dressing. Cook, stirring until well blended and warm. Mix in half of the shredded cheese, and transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, cover, and cook on Low setting until hot and bubbly.|
Sleepy: Dried cherries, almonds, dark chocolate chips mixed together. Why? Because they all make you sleepy! And it’s yummy! http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/g796/sleep-inducing-foods/?slide=13
Bashful: A blush wine
Happy: Cupcakes with little happy faces.
There are several ways to go here. You could do some moody, New Yorky jazz from the 1930s. I would play The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love c.d. all the way through.
Arturo: Javier Bardem
Boy: Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones certainly has the look for it
Boy’s mother: Tilda Swinton
Snow: Lily Collins (maybe but she’s already played Snow White I think — so maybe some unknown who is younger).