by Helen Oyeyemi, author of Mr. Fox
In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.
That is only the surface of the story. Oyeyemi’s aesthetic narrative is once again a delicate balance of fairy tale and reality, layered so incredibly that it makes your head spin. This retelling unconventionally translates the central themes of Snow White beauty, stepmothers, mirrors into (somewhat unpleasant) significant contemporary ideals and issues of beauty (race, color), family (male/female power, marriage, abuse), reputation (class, image), etc.
Unfortunately, I think there is a significant difference of the story’s power in the first half and in the second half of the book. I was (am) absolutely in love with Boy’s perspective in the first section of the story, and I wish that the entire book was from her perspective. However, it is filled with many different types of narratives (from Bird’s perspective, letters from Snow and Bird, etc.) In my opinion, the later narratives weaken the story line. The ending, which is quite a plot twist, seems rushed and unfinished. I think there was absolutely no way to tell what was coming and that made it seem…disconnected (for lack of a better word.)
This is a truly impressive novel but definitely not for everyone. Don’t pick this up expecting it to be a Snow White retelling because it is so much more strategic than that.