Recently, fairy tales have come back in a big way, especially in the small-press world. Perhaps fairy tales suggest ease in writing because some of these stories read like the author believes throwing in something “totally weird”—something that magic might explain—will save a bad story. Too often fairy tale collections are published that fail to fully submerge the reader into a whole world. Either the fairy tale element needs to come early and is part of the world, or something mysterious happens that should have suggested origins.
Amy E. Yergen’s first book, the collection At Times I Almost Dream (Pink Narcissus Press, 2013), holds ten fairy tales. Each story embodies a familiar fairy-tale feel, even Disney-esque at times, but all ten stuck with heroines who experience real-life obstacles. They aren’t in-your-face feminist, but each character is insightful as a unique female body (even the ones who turn into wolves or mermaids).
In “Chamber of the Sea,” Leilani, a sort of reverse Ariel, flees the ocean (where her boyfriend Moe the Volcano god lives) to experience freedom on land, which, ironically, is spent dressed as a mermaid singing at the Aloha! Grotto: Bar & Grill in Waikiki. She tries to combine the ocean and freedom, but “with every hour in the waves, Leilani grows new scales. Scales that must be removed with a pumice stone” and leave terrible scars. Leilani isn’t cold-hearted, though. When Moe arrives on land to work as a bartender at the Grotto and wait for Leilani to agree to go home with him, the romance picks up. Yergen carefully balances juicy, sexy moments certain women read with abandon, and good writing. I couldn’t help but feel tingles when Moe “draws [Leilani’s] tight running shorts down just a little.”
Yergen also incorporates contemporary technology, which has mixed reception in some circles. While the mention of Facebook may date a piece, it also speaks to its own time. Steve Tomasula once pointed out in an interview that contemporary authors still have their characters mailing letters or facing obstacles that would immediately be solved if a cell phone were present. I think Tomasula is on to something because in Yergen’s story “Bonsai” she writes about MSN instant messenger, Rock Band, Windows Vista, Dance Dance Revolution, and The Learning Channel. While it sounds like Yergen is product-dropping, the story works beautifully and flows naturally. A 6 1/2-inch tall woman called Bonsai blogs, lives in a dollhouse, watches movies on her “Eviant T7 7-inch Handheld LCD TV,” and chats with a guy whom she’s never met. Her friend Katy, human-sized, irritates the mini sassy-pants narrator. The whole story reads like a real woman finding love online, not a chick-flick about a woman finding romance online. When Katy harasses Bonsai for watching the impossible romance in The Lake House, Bonsai goes berserk: “What the fuck, Katy? The smallest man in the world is two foot four inches and looks like the ethnic version of Benjamin Button. Even if he was super fine, his penis would rip my body in half if he somehow managed to get it in. So please, let’s not pretend that I’m Carrie Bradshaw waiting for Mr. Big to drive up in his shiny black town car, ok? If a regular size woman sits at home crocheting on a Saturday night, it’s time to sign her up for online dating—but is that really gonna work for me?”
Really, I loved all of Yergen’s stories; I didn’t have a most or least favorite because each was unique. Comparing her to Kelly Link would be a compliment, but I can’t do that because they aren’t the same. Yergen has her own accomplished flavor: she blends reality with sexy romance and fairy tales in perfect combination, never upsetting the balance to suggest the story is doing only one thing at a time.
*This review was originally published in JMWW