You would hardly imagine there could be anything new to say about Snow White. Haven’t there been movies galore telling her story? She was even a (fascinating) character in the long-running graphic novel series Fables. How could there be an adult novel about Snow White that wouldn’t be just a rehash of stories you’ve heard since you were a child, stories that have been around in different cultures for hundreds of years? How about if Snow White’s story is located in the Old West? How about if, instead of a king and queen having a baby who’s white as snow, with hair black as ebony and lips red as blood, her father was a miner and her mother was a Crow woman he married, who died giving birth to a daughter? In Six-Gun Snow White, by Catherynne N. Valente, suddenly the whole story takes on a different cast, and when it’s told, as it is here, in a voice that’s rich and reads like a folktale (or perhaps a tall tale), it’s a new take on the old tale, and a fun read.
A lot stranger, for more adventurous readers, is Woman with a Blue Pencil, by Gordon McAlpine. The protagonist (at first) is a Japanese American academic on the eve of Pearl Harbor, turned into a private investigator to find the truth about his wife’s untimely death. As he begins to dig into the case, he discovers to his shock and horror that all evidence of his existence, let alone his wife’s death, seems to have been erased. Nobody recognizes him, nobody acknowledges his presence, and as he soldiers on in his investigation, he also has to face the changing attitudes towards Japanese Americans in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. What he doesn’t know is that he’s a fictional character (how meta) whose author has replaced him with a more politically correct Korean P.I. who’s trying to solve the same (or very similar) mystery in the same city, and while all these fictional characters are struggling with their existence, the actual author who created them and is trying to write and publish a viable novel spars with his editor, the woman of the title. Three stories run in parallel, and each comments on the other, so it’s both a mystery novel, a deconstruction of mysteries, and an examination of the lives of Japanese Americans in World War II.
A more traditional storyline, with a twist of its own, is The Devil in the Valley, by Castle Freeman, Jr. The idea of the devil making a bargain with an ordinary person is an old one, going back to Dr. Faustus and continuing through The Devil and Daniel Webster to modern movies, but it’s never been told quite the way Freeman tells it here. We find ourselves in rural Vermont where a “closer” by the name of Dangerfield seeks out an old man named Taft to make him an offer of anything he wants for the next seven months, in exchange for Taft’s soul. Naturally, Dangerfield isn’t as crude as that, and naturally Taft is a bit cagier than that (the first thing he asks Dangerfield for is new tires for his truck), but they end up agreeing, and then the fun really begins. What would Taft want? Not the ordinary things you’d expect: power, riches, fame. What he wants is to do good. And what exactly does that mean? You’ll have to read this charming book to find out.