Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente


I have often spoken of my fondness for fairy tale-related fantasies, and it feels like there have been a lot of them lately. Fortunately, most of the books that fall into this category have been great. I was excited to sit down with Six-Gun Snow White, by one of my favourite authors, whose Deathless is probably the single best folk/fairy tale riff out there. 

This book wasn't available in Canada for a long time, so I was excited to see it on the shelf of my local big box bookstore (I wish there was a good independent one, but I haven't found one in my city). I snapped it up.

This isn't quite as good as Deathless, and it's a slim and fast read, but that aside, it was thoroughly enjoyable. It's the story of a young woman, daughter of a Native American woman and her white husband. Her mother dies in childbirth, and the girl, who is later dubbed Snow White mockingly by her stepmother, is hidden away on her father's extensive estate. He's made all his money in mining, and is used to getting his own way.

Of course, he remarries, and Snow White and her mother do not get along. There is a mirror, but what we see reflected in it may not be what you expect.

One of the things that delighted me most about this book was that I kept getting so sunk into it that I was always pleasantly surprised when Valente wove in another fairy tale thread from the classic story. I never saw them coming, and I never felt like the story was beholden to following exactly the fairy tale outline, so when they did crop up (and it really did hew fairly closely to the classic tale), I was surprised and delighted. 

My husband wasn't crazy about this book, as he felt like the narrative voice was somewhat inconsistent, but perhaps I'm less attuned to that than he is. I do get what he's saying - the narrator changes midway through and I'm not entirely sure why, but by far and large it wasn't something that bothered me. 

I like the specificity of this happening in a growing United States, where speculators are making immense amounts of money on mines, if you have the money already to do so, and others are barely breaking even under the earth. Snow White runs away through that world becomes a miner, then takes up with a group of outlaw women who live deliberately apart from the surrounding world, trying to resist being pulled into the stories the world tells about being female.

The magic elements are intriguing too, from the mirror and what it shows of the deal the stepmother made to get where she is, and what it says both about her background and her present. The child she attempts to have, and what that child thinks of the world in which he's born and the world into which he's thrust. 

I will confess that I am not sure why the narrative switches voices halfway through, but that slight confusion aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Six-Gun Snow White, and was delighted that it was finally available. 

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