This anthology is edited by Kate Bernheimer whose life-long passion for fairy tales has led her to publish several fairy tale themed books as well as to establish an on-line publication devoted exclusively to the publication of fairy tales. The idea for My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me began with Bernheimer’s desire to prove that fairy tales are an essential part of contemporary literature. To that end she gathered together forty different writers from various cultures and backgrounds and asked them each to write a story using a fairy tale as the starting point. The result is a diverse collection of stories written in all manner of styles and tones, followed by an explanation by the story’s author as to why they decided to focus on the particular fairy tale that they chose.
While some of the fairy tales used were familiar to me quite a few of them were ones I’d never heard of before, and I enjoyed becoming acquainted with these new stories. Often, after reading one of the stories, I would head to the Internet to read more about the original fairy tale that the story was based on. Though, I must admit, the stories that I enjoyed the most were ones based on fairy tales that I was already well-acquainted with because I was more able to appreciate the ways in which the author played around with the original story and its themes.
Most of the writers here seem to glorify in the grim macabre of the original fairy tales, rather than their softer and more romantic retellings, and the stories in this collection reflect that. Death, Murder, rape, incest and cannibalism are common themes in this story collection and fans of the original Brother Grimm and Hans Christina Anderson stories will likely appreciate this. As for me, I’ve always preferred the more romanticized versions of these stories and my favorites in this collection were the ones with the least blood and gore. I also preferred the stories which were narrated in a more traditional manner since I could enjoy reading them for entertainment or I could choose to examine them more carefully on a deeper level, if I was in the mood.
One of my favorite fairy tales is that of the brothers turned into swans and of their sister who must make them shirts out of nettles to turn them back into humans. A few of the authors chose this fairy tale to base their own stories on and I particularly enjoyed Halfway People by Karen Joy Fowler, which tells the story of a lonely woman who falls in-love with the last brother, the one tragically left with a swan’s wing.
In The Color Master by Aimee Bender, a group of designers famed for their ability of making clothing in the colors of natural elements, must create for the king’s daughter a dress in the color of the moon, which is followed by an order for a dress in the exact shade of the sky. The narrator of the story is struggling with the challenges of each assignment and their own insecurity about their ability to select the right colors for each dress, or to add the emotions needed to get the princess away from her incestuous father.
The romantic in me loved Francesca Lia Block’s Psyche’s Dark Night which follows the story of Psych and Cupid who meet at an online match-making website but whose tenuous relationship is disrupted by the personal issues that each of them is hounded by.
Neil Gaiman’s contribution, Orange, is narrated in a very unique style which tells the story of a young and spoiled girl who inadvertently uses some of the Day-Glo her mother had invented, mistaking it for self-tanning lotion, with dramatic results. Her sister tells of the events that followed, through the answers of a questionnaire.
These four stories were my favorite in the collection though there were others that I enjoyed as well. Admittedly, there were probably more stories of the shock and awe variety that didn’t appeal to me at all, and several that I couldn’t bring myself to finish. But even in these instances I was still interested in reading the author’s blurb at the end of each story which described what the chosen fairy tale meant to them and why they selected it. In some instances I actually enjoyed reading these even more than the stories themselves.
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me is a book that will appeal in particular to lovers of the original fairy tales, full of gleeful horror and gore, as well as to those who enjoy examining the tales for the themes and messages under the surface. But there is enough variety here that no matter what your fairy tale preferences are, you are sure to find something in the collection that you will enjoy.