Geek Girls Rule! #589 – Review: The Merry Spinster by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Yes, this is late and you know why.

However, in good news, the insurance finally approved the new hotness migraine meds.  So, fingers crossed they give me my life back.  Because this sucks.

So, I have read Daniel Mallory Ortberg on many sites, but this is the first fiction by them I have read, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.  This is a collection of retellings of fairy tales and children’s stories.  The sub title is “Tales of Everyday Horror.”

In part, I feel like part of the purpose of these stories was to expose the toxic bullshit we feed children by unthinkingly offering those stories up as entertainment.  And more than one is a really blatant allegory for things like shitty manipulative friends and the fact that so many people would rather live in willful ignorance than take a good hard look at what is really going on.

And not all of these stories are as successful as others.  “The Daughter Cells” is very plainly a riff on The Little Mermaid that makes sense to those of us who didn’t understand why the hell she’d spare that faithless asshole and let herself die.  “The Thankless Child” is…  it feels like a sort of conflation of “Cinderella” and the “Other Mother,” the story that Coraline is a retelling of.  But it also has some weird incest vibes going on in it.  And, yeah, it wasn’t as successful for me as many of the other stories.

The Beauty and the Beast retelling fell flat for me.

“Fear Not: an incident log,” was great.  I really enjoyed this version of biblical events.

“The Six Boy-Coffins” was great, and wow, a lot to unpack there about family dynamics.  “The Rabbit” turns the Velveteen Rabbit into a vamlpiric psychopath, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.  “The Wedding Party” I found very thought provoking, and it left me a little unsettled, but in a good way.

“Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad,” is effective, very effective.  And also quite disturbing.  Do I like it? No.  Not really.  I found it incredibly disturbing and upsetting, which I am 90 percent sure I’m supposed to.  Let’s just say I empathize greatly with Mr. Toad.

“Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters,” is an exceptional retelling of any of those host of  folktales where a fisherman coerces a mermaid or selkie, or what have you to marry him by keeping something from her, except it’s told from the point of view of his mother, and gets… mom isn’t a nice person.  Not at all.

Ortberg plays with gender a lot in these stories, and to great effect.  Behaviors you find acceptable when ascribed to one gender are exposed as the utter bullshit they are when you enforce them on a member another gender.

Would I recommend this book to people?  On a general level, on a “I want to be entertained and nothing else,” level, no.  I would not.  I do have people I would recommend this to, but not many.  Like I said, even the stories I didn’t care for gave me a lot to think about, even the ones that didn’t quite hit the mark I think Ortberg was aiming for.  But this is not a pleasant read.  It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking read.

Will I read it again? Unlikely.  Well, most of it. There are one or two stories in it that I might go back to later on for another go after some time to think about them.

Is it good?  This is harder.  Is it well and thoughtfully crafted? Yes.  Does it say things that need saying? Yes.  Then I suppose it is good, but hard.  This is not light reading.  If you’re super into folk and fairy tales, and have a lot of knowledge of them and where they come from, you’ll get a lot out of it.  I did.  Will you enjoy it? I’m not so sure about that part.

Ok, I need to go see if my phone is charged and if the pharmacy called to schedule delivery of the new wonder drug.  We’ll see how this goes.  Fingers crossed.

If you like what you read here, or want to help fund my book addiction, please consider donating using the link at the top right of the page:  Keep Us Geeking, or checking out my Patreon.  Thank you!

Also, if you’d like to see what sort of fiction I write when left to my own devices, please feel free to check out my fiction Patreon, Nothing Nice Comes Out of My Head.

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