TITLE: An Unsuitable Princess: A True Fantasy/A Fantastical Memoir
AUTHOR: Jane Rosenberg LaForge
PUBLISHER: Jaded Ibis Press (2014)
PROCUREMENT: Publisher/Debra Di Blasi
RELATIONSHIP TO AUTHOR: I have work published in two anthologies released by JIP and in another forthcoming anthology. I consider Debra Di Blasi a friend, though I do not know Jane Rosenberg LaForge.
VERDICT: Recommending with interest and questions.
When it comes to Jaded Ibis Press, I never open the cover knowing what to expect. Founding publisher and fiction editor Debra Di Blasi chooses works that wouldn’t normally find a home elsewhere because the project is considered too difficult or challenging for other venues, and I like that bold quality about JIP. An Unsuitable Princess is one of the less intimidating books I’ve encountered from this publisher. Set during medieval times, there is a definite narrative that ends with a raspberry at traditional storytelling. This is the true fantasy. Meanwhile, readers get footnotes that describe connections between moments in the story to moments in the author’s life–this is where the fantastical memoir part comes in.
The true fantasy part of the book is about a young lady named Jenny who appears to have mysterious healing powers, but she does not speak and cannot describe her feelings, methods, or circumstances. She works for Sir Robert, who is a royal nobody, though he does protect Jenny because he agreed to do so while Samuel, a young blacksmith, is off fighting in a pointless (perhaps non-existent) war. Though he loves her, Samuel cannot marry Jenny because she is an “outcast.”
As I read the story of Jenny and Samuel, I would encounter a word or phrase in bold followed by a flower. Readers are told in the very beginning that flowers indicate that there is a footnote that will pertain to the bolded information. While it might sound complicated, An Unsuitable Princesses was one of the easiest books I’ve ever read that has footnotes. Typically, they are my least favorite aspect of a book because I have to decide if I want to finish a sentence or paragraph before I go to the footnote. Then, after I finish the footnote, I have to decide if I need to reenter the narrative before or after the indication to go to the footnote. Really, it can become quite a mess that causes me to loop around and feel annoyed. However, Rosenberg LaForge’s “footnotes” don’t work that way. They’re not even really in the footer. A quick glance at the Amazon page where readers can “Look Inside!” demonstrates that the “true fantasy” is in larger font and fills the pages’ margins, whereas the fantastical memoir, or “footnotes,” can appear anywhere on the book’s page, but are in a slightly smaller (though easy to read) font that leaves sizable margins. When readers are told to go to a footnote after the first three words of the book, it’s easiest to finish the paragraph and then just move down to the footnote, which will eventually end and pick up again with the “true fantasy.” It is not hard to transition from story to footnote and back again, because the story of Jenny and Samuel is not so complicated that I would forget what I had read.
Rosenberg LaForge’s fantastical memoir portion could be difficult to pick up again, though. In the first part of the book, there were times when it was unclear if the footnotes had any connection, or if they were different stories that demonstrated why the author chose a certain name or concept in the true fantasy. Eventually, when I got closer to the end of the book, the footnotes became cohesive and told the story of the author’s young boyfriend, whom she meets at a Renaissance Fair, who is sick. Having the footnotes be separate and then united confused me a bit, but it also makes sense for the author to have it how she does. Honestly, who writes a story that is based only on one personal story? Readers might claim that Rosenberg LaForge was simply fictionalizing a real-life example instead of taking inspiration from life.
Because the inspirations are from the author’s life, there are many references I did not understand. She and I are neither in the same age cohort nor location (the author grew up near Hollywood). The authors excitement over Midnight Special and Don Kirshner went over my head, and though I am apt to look up things I do not know, there were enough unfamiliar references that I did not want to look them all up, nor do I think another reader would. However, it’s not about the specific reference, but about Rosenberg LaForge’s emotions. I, too, was a teenage girl once, and I, too, wanted people to like me. So, when the author realizes she can’t sneak out of her house to watch a David Bowie special on TV, something the author just knows all the cool kids at school will see, she and her friend try to sneak into her dad’s bedroom while he sleeps (as he has the only TV in the house) and watch the very show he has forbidden his daughter from seeing! It is worth getting caught; although Rosenberg LaForge doesn’t care about David Bowie, he’ll be the talk of the school on Monday, and she doesn’t want to be the only loser who missed the program.
The true fantasy sounds like medieval times in terms of style, but the fantastical memoir, at times, can be quite funny. During the David Bowie scene, Rosenberg LaForge describes her sleeping dad: “As my father lay in the bed like a huge mound of hibernating molten aggression, we crawled into his room and situated our necks to take in the rock ‘n’ roll spectacular.” Later, when the author describes being a teen, she emphasizes that she loved marijuana: “As the weeks went on, however, there were other packets [of weed] from other adult sponsors, and God, how I did love smoking dope, how it literally erased the sensations of the skin I was in, and turned me into a floating bowl of ridiculous gelatin.”
Overall, An Unsuitable Princess: A True Fantasy/A Fantastical Memoir is an interesting new step in storytelling. The concept behind it reminded me of the many fiction workshops in which I’ve participated. Whenever a peer wants to know how the writer came up with an idea, the writer’s typical answer is that something happened to him/her in real life that inspired the events. Workshoppers typically either say “ah” and nod their heads to show that they accept reality as justification for a choice in fiction, or they argue that just because it happened doesn’t mean readers will believe it. Jane Rosenberg LaForge is simply cutting out the middle man who asks that question and showing readers her cards.