Take fairy tale mythology, the sideways structure of Native American folklore, a Wild West setting, weave it through with themes on race and gender and wrap it in Valente’s wordsmithing, and you’ll have Six-Gun Snow White.
“A body can only deliver up the truth its bones know. Its blood, which is its history. My body is my truth, and I have laid it out as evidence on the table of my father’s reputation, for by know you may have guessed my next revelation.” –from The Creation of Snow White
This bears thinking on. Where does the anxiety, the joy, the tears come from? My body perhaps knows truths my head won’t realize.
“It was not like any of the mirrors… it was like a door into nothing. The glass did not show the buttery light of the house behind me. It did not show the forest or the meadows. It did not even show me. The glass was so full up of dark, it looked like someone had tripped over the night and spilled it all into that mirror.” –from Snow White Bites Her Own Reflection
One of my absolute favorite things at my last house–the woodwork was a heavily varnished oak–is the way the setting sun would turn the living room into a buttery glow. Valente writes images that are incredibly resonant with my memory.
“I said I loved her back. I put my hand on the door and I said I loved her back, and when I said it, I thought of kissing her and also of shooting her through the eye.” –from Snow White Fights a Lump of Pitch
I loved someone like this once. Or was it?
“The dude hesitates. ‘She beat you, I suppose?’ Snow White just laughs. The dude feels that laugh in his spine. It saws there on the hard, old bone.” –from Snow White Cheats at Cards
The dude should be frightened when he hears that laugh, that almost-humor full of irony and pain.
“Until she walked out of the woods and into a town full of banshees with no love for anyone’s history. Your past’s a private matter, sweetheart. You just keep it locked up in a box where it can’t hurt anyone.” –from Snow What and the Birds From Heaven
There’s constant and loud metaphor here about what one can keep locked up/trapped/hidden in mirrors.
“So if you want it, you can have a nice life here…it’s a kind of magic, but then most things are. But story is an eager fucking beaver and someday soon someone will come knocking for you and you’d better just say no thank you is all I’m saying.“–from Snow White Dances With Prairie Dog
And here I ask: do we want the story? Or not? Do we open the door or appreciate magic of ordinary life? Can we even choose?
Valente is one of those writers I never know entirely if I’m ready for, because she has that way of finding the boxes in my heart and my memory and opening them up. She did that again. I was quite startled to realize this isn’t a “retelling” as much as a reformulation, a genre-mash-up, a deconstruction and reconstruction of the tales we tell ourselves with modern considerations of gender and race. Thank you for that, Valente. I read everything not-real I could lay my hands on, so it was fun to realize that there’s a ‘Just So’ folklore style of telling that goes with the fairy-tale mashing. The last segment, however, ‘Snow White Holds Up the Sky,’ worked less well for me. I felt it didn’t adequately resolve Snow’s story in a congruent fashion and likely should have ended with ‘Snow White and the Story of Death.’ Fairy tales–or at least the Disney ones–demand happy endings, but many folktales are much more ambiguous.
I’m grateful to my flash read group compadres who came along on this reading adventure, bringing enthusiasm and knowledge: Athena, Alina, Carly, Naomi, Nataliya and Richard.