Six-Gun Snow White seemed like the perfect book for me:
From New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title s heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves.
A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents–a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.
A new take on a classic fairy tale by talented and creative author. What’s not to like, right? But I have to say I really struggled with this one. Yes, it includes some incredibly imaginative reworking of classic fairy tale motifs and perspectives. And it is dark and cruel and yet beautiful in certain ways (like most fairy tales).
But the style and structure made it very hard for me to get into a rhythm with book and capture the whole. When I got to the end my reaction was “huh?” And the short chapters and surrealistic elements, combined with the unique voice of Snow made it a little hard to follow at times.
I think this is a book you would be better off reading in one or two long chunks. I read it over a period of a week or so before bed and this contributed to the disjointed perspective I felt. Each time it took me a while to get reacclimatized if you will, to the world Valente creates; to be in the mood and perspective of the story. Being the impatient reader that I am, this meant frustrating reader for a period of time each night.
But when you get into the mood and rhythm of the story you can enjoy the lyrical and evocative language of Valente and the unique characters she creates even as she explores the nature of story and the fairy tale. I am tempted to read it again in one sitting.
Allow me to offer you some other opinions in the mean time.
There are many reasons why Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow Whitemay be, if you’ll pardon the expression, the fairest of them all. For me, the main one is the way it adds layers upon layers of meaning to the ancient tale. It’s a highly personal, emotional story about a strong but broken character, sure, but it’s also—and equally importantly—about race, about gender, about colonialism, about abuse. About magic. Write pages full of thoughts about just one of these angles, and you’re still only looking at one facet. This is a story with so many levels that it’s damn near dizzying.
I love how Valente has reconstructed the old story here. It’s told in a twisted version of fairy tale language, with hints of Joss Whedon’s Firefly to give it an authentic Western flavor. The chapters are short, titled as though they were other stories. Valente’s narrator hints, over and over, that Snow White’s adventures got turned into myths and legends and that Snow White herself became an archetype*.
I love reconstructed fairy tales. They prove my theory that these stories touch on something important in our cultures. The reason they keep getting told and retold is that there’s something true about them. They point out age old fears and values. They’re like concentrated psychology and sociology rolled up with fantastical creatures and magic. Valente does a great job of preserving all that, while turning Snow White into a story for the twenty-first century.
Six-Gun Snow White is beautifully written, with a ventriloquist’s sense of voice and the poet’s attention to language typical of Valente. It is full of delightful surprises that map the mythical, the magical, and the real onto each other in complex and deliberately disruptive ways.
Her unforgettable portrait of Snow White is a simultaneously comical, lyrical, political, and haunting reading of the familiar fairy tale that intuits and explores what she shows to be the ongoing truths and insights, as well as the highly problematic gender roles, in the scripts we inherit from the fairy tale, from canonical literary sources, and from popular culture.