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A Wild Swan Not the usual type of book I read but am willing to try anything written by this author To my surprise I enjoyed it very much Taking many of our beloved fairytale and giving them a very inventive modern twist was pure entertainment Many were extremely amusing so very clever But while Cunningham's wit and originality were in fine display I missed his ingenious plots and his expansiveness that is adeuately displayed in his novels Still very entertaining a uick read that was than worth my time I'd rate this 35 starsThe idea of putting twists on the fairy tales we know and love isn't a new one Many books have given these familiar tales a modern spin a macabre tone even made them politically correct as the originals were decidedly notIn A Wild Swan and Other Tales Michael Cunningham one of my favorite authors tries to humanize the tales a bit modernizing them and imbuing many with emotion and character development than the originals offered He looks at some familiar tales—Jack and the Beanstalk Rapunzel Rumpelstiltskin—and others I wasn't familiar with All in all it's an interesting exercise one which I think had mixed resultsAs I've said many a time before if a story hits me emotionally without making me feel manipulated it definitely resonates The stories I liked best in this collection either moved or amused me sometimes both My favorites included Jacked in which Jack of beanstalk fame is a lazy man child whose encounters with the giant provokes intriguing feelings in the giant's wife; Little Man an amusing and moving take on Rumpelstiltskin; Beasts an interesting twist on Beauty and the Beast; Steadfast; Tin a story about a couple which reminded me of How I Met Your Mother than any fairy tale; and my favorite EverAfter a moving look at the idea of happily ever afterI love the way Michael Cunningham tells a story and I've always found that characterization is among his many strengths so those stories in which the characters were front and center worked best A few of the stories were odd and one was told in such a way that I wasn't exactly sure who was narrating it or what was happeningOverall this was an intriguing and worthwhile read If you like fairy tales give this a try—it's not uite the tales you know but they'll definitely get you thinking See all of my reviews at Fairy tale retellings are one of my 'things' so I had to pick this up when I came across it on the library shelf I haven't read anything else by this Pulitzer Prize winning author so I can't compare this to his other writingsThe stories collected here are very consistent in 'feel' throughout Each takes a fairy tale or other well known tale and injects it with a dash of the modern day without wholly removing its 'classic' elements and twists the story a bit in order to accentuate the ironic and perhaps make a bitter comment on humanity There aren't a lot of happy endings to be found here Dis EnchantThis very brief piece on the theme of 'ordinary' people being resentful and jealous of the 'extraordinary' sets the tone of the book very well If you like this piece I'd recommend continuing If you don't the book might not be for youA Wild SwanBased on The Wild Swans happens as it did in the Andersen tale the brothers transformed the sister who works to rescue them from the curse But the author focuses on what happened to the one brother who was left with a swan's wing; transposing him in his trauma from the fantasy castle to a contemporary setting of bars full of alcoholic depressed victims of cursesCrazy Old LadyBased on Hansel and GretelThe woman who focused on sex and good times while all her friends were getting married and settling down always dreamed of being a 'Mrs Robinson' style cougar in her later years To her dismay as she ages she realized the boys just aren't interested A bit unhinged she decides to build a candy and gingerbread cottage What eventually happens mirrors what happened to the witch in Hansel and Gretel a bit closely than she expected But the kids who visit her are no innocentsJackedBased on Jack and the BeanstalkHere the classic story is infused with plenty of authorial commentary on topics such as how very foolish it is to entrust your last cow to an 'imbecilic son' who'd trade it to a stranger for a handful of beans It also comments on the very uestionable morality of everything Jack does although his burglaries and thefts certainly allow he and his mother to buy private planes remote island and limited edition Murakami Louis Vuitton handbags PoisonedBased on Snow WhiteAfter rescuing Snow White from her glass coffin the prince develops a pervy obsessionA Monkey's PawBased on the WW Jacobs story of course The twist is What if they didn't use the third wish to send away the rotted corpse of their son? What if they invited him back anyways? The story becomes a disturbing digression on the erosion of happinessLittle ManBased on RumplestiltskinI've read other positive representations of the titular ugly 'little man' of the Rumplestiltskin story Here he is consumed by the desire to have a child to be a good father and to pass on his knowledge to a new generation His efforts to help a hapless girl spin straw into gold are motivated largely by kindness But we all know what happens to a dream deferred or deniedSteadfast TinBased on Hans Christian Andersen's Steadfast Tin SoldierA modern relationship is depicted here which may mirror the tragic fairy tale in certain respects At least the woman in the relationship seems to think it does; and her daughter explicitly thinks that her mother used telling her the story as a way to try to explain her parents' relationshipThe story rather deftly uestions the concept of destiny and true love as it describes a troubled but eventually 'steadfast' marriage BeastsBased on Beauty and the BeastOoh this was a twist on the story that I hadn't ever actually seen before And I've read a LOT of takes on this story I thought it worked really well too I might even say it was Angela Carter worthy Here many events proceed as expected with the additional information that Beauty herself might've been less meek and selfless and hopeless and frustrated than we thought She professes her love for the Beast and breaks the spell but have you ever considered WHY someone might've cast such a spell on the Beast?Her HairBased on RapunzelBeginning where the story usually ends this shows us a blind man at the fulfillment of his long and arduous uest to find his love The short piece uickly becomes a metaphor about how we all sometimes hide certain things in relationships to keep others happyEverAfterI guess Cunningham didn't want to end the book on a low note because this original fairy tale of an arranged royal marriage that works out surprisingly well is a love letter to life with all its uotidian warts and travailsNote The illustrations here by Yuko Shimizu are exuisite Simple stark black and white like something from a less perverse Aubrey Beardsley I couldn't help feeling like they belonged to a less earthy transcendent collection of fairy tales though Cunningham presents some new spins on beloved classics with this short collection of retellings updates and continuations of folk and fairy tales for adults There's some fun and provocative stuff here crazy cat ladies who build gingerbread houses ne'er do wells and their beanstalks closet necrophiliacs who wake sleeping princesses Most are worthy of three stars with a few fivers scattered about I truly love the last tale an original offering about how we can make our own fairy tales come true by noticing the magic in our every day lives At least that's what I thought it was about The illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are truly lovely This is one of the most enjoyable collection of short stories I've read since Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories If anything the characters here where written with impact and depth Carter is a master at ambiance but Cunningham mastered character creation in short form hereThe illustrations are absolutely hauntingI highly recommend this one I spotted this slim book while browsing the 'new' shelves of the library one evening I feel drawn to retellings of fairy tales though so many end up disappointing me Because I enjoy Cunningham's writing I didn't think twice about checking out this bookI wasn't excited about any of the stories until I got to the seventh out of eleven the story titled Little Man Rumpelstiltskin easily my favorite which has a perfect reason to use second person narration With it Cunningham does one of the things I feel a retelling 'should' do ie get inside the head of a character we haven't heard from before Its ending one fairly long paragraph was so exuisite drawing our attention to how someone like him in 'real life' could turn into the person he has become that I read it several times The next story Steadfast; Tin is another that used a twisting of the genre effectively bringing the story into relevance to a modern day couple while cleverly filling in the reader who might not be familiar with the HC Andersen tale of The Steadfast Tin Soldier The story after that Beasts frustrated me with its standard 'retelling' of Beauty and the Beast until I arrived at the ending and the reason for it all became clear I had been as seduced as Beauty wasI should also mention A Monkey's Paw a very good story I've just never been a fan of the original by WW Jacobs whose title contains the definite articleThe illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are ethereal and disturbing; and I guess because I'm not a visual person I didn't realize till I later looked at her website that I've encountered her work beforeProbably of a 35 stars kind of book but I've rounded up because I can't stop thinking of that paragraph A poisoned apple and a monkey's paw with the power to change fate; a girl whose extraordinarily long hair causes catastrophe; a man with one human arm and one swan's wing; and a house deep in the forest constructed of gumdrops and gingerbread vanilla frosting and boiled sugar In A Wild Swan and Other Tales the people and the talismans of lands far far away—the mythic figures of our childhoods and the source of so much of our wonder—are transformed by Michael Cunningham into stories of sublime revelation Here are the moments that our fairy tales forgot or deliberately concealed the years after a spell is broken the rapturous instant of a miracle unexpectedly realized or the fate of a prince only half cured of a curse The Beast stands ahead of you in line at the convenience store buying smokes and a Slim Jim his devouring smile aimed at the cashier A malformed little man with a knack for minor acts of wizardry goes to disastrous lengths to procure a child A loutish and lazy Jack prefers living in his mother's basement to getting a job until the day he trades a cow for a handful of magic beans Reimagined by one of the most gifted storytellers of his generation our bedtime stories been this dark this perverse or this trueProgram contains music composed specifically for the audiobook by Billy Hough and his bandmates in GarageDogs Billy Hough says The original piece 'A Wild Swan' was written as a gift to Michael due to my incredibly strong reaction to hearing these beautiful stories for the first time I enlisted the brilliant Lili Taylor to alternate the stories with me and wrote a series of short pieces of music for their eventual inclusion on this album I wanted to use the music to illustrate the tension between the ancient and the modern much in the same way Michael has done in the stories themselves Michael Cunningham is the author of The Hours a book inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway which won him the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was later adapted into a successful movie I have never read the book nor seen the film though I really enjoyed the musical score by Philip Glass which might be his finest work for film you can listen to it here I don't think you will be disappointed A Wild Swan is his first collection of short stories and one which I approached with certain interest and curiosity it is a collection of fairy tales told anew A surprising subject for someone who has been writing mostly realistic fiction I was very interested me how the author would approach hi subject and in the end can't help but be disappointedThis is a slim collection less than 150 pages long and yet includes 11 stories complete with black and white illustrations by Yuko Shimuzu Cunningham takes classic stories such as Snow White Rapunzel Beauty and the Beast and Jack and the Bean Stalk and tells them again in his own way in a different setting or from another perspective Fairytale retellings are nothing new but they are something entirely new for this particular author and it shows Aside for two exceptions I found none of these new stories to be either particularly impressive or memorable they read like exercises in writing a way for the author to try himself out in something that he has not attempted before It is not a bad thing in itself but the end result is not always ready to be presented to a wider audience Such exercises are often hidden in the proverbial drawer where they await better times which often don't comeThe first one is A Monkey's Paw which is of course based on The Monkey's Paw the famous story by W W Jacobs The Monkey's Paw has been adapted into other media and parodied multiple times Including a memorable episode of The Simpsons Cunningham's spin is creative enough to be interesting and at the same time just short enough to not overstay its welcome The real gem of the collection is Little Man which is the retelling of Rumpelstiltskin told in the second person from the perspective of the imp In the original as collected centuries ago by the Grimm brothers a miller brags to the King of his realm that his daughter can spin straw into gold; the King throws the poor girl into a locked room full of straw and demands that she turn it all into gold before morning or else she will be beheaded Rumpelstiltskin is the mysterious figure who appears out of nowhere offering her a deal he will spin the straw into gold for exchange of something of hers First he takes her necklace; when the King sees a room full of gold and locks her in an even bigger room demanding gold he takes her ring; when the next day the King says that he will marry her if she will turn another room of straw into gold the imp demands their firstborn childIn the original tale just appears out of nowhere and not as a savior he essentially blackmails the girl into giving him what he wants knowing full well that these are offers that she can't refuse if she wants to live in some versions of the stories the imp begins to spin gold despite the girl protesting that she has nothing to pay him at the last day and tells her that he will take her first child leaving her horrified The original tale offers no information about the imp his character or motivation we can see him as unlikable but we do not know why he is so or why he does what he does This is why Cunningham's story works so well it gives voice to someone who did not have one before and unexpectedly flips the tables on morality of the characters Rumpelstiltskin becomes a sympathetic character and very believably so and his portrayal as of a being filled with deep sadness and loneliness consumed by deep longing for a child is touching and memorable This is to put it simply a good story and deserves praise as suchStill two stories do not exactly cut it and despite enjoying them I can't recommend the collection as a whole If I was to describe A Wild Swan with one word it would be unnecessary one or two stories are not enough to save it If you are interested in fairy tales adapted into contemporary prose look no further than Philip Pullman's brilliant Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm A New English Versiont which treats the source material with respect and courtesy Narrators Lili Taylor and Billy Hough 4 starsTheir narrations were just right for the stories giving them that extra spark There is one where they were narrate together that was one of my favoritesThe storiestales themselves There were a few stand outs among the bunch Wild Swans Poisoned the one based on the one legged soldier and the ballerina Monkeys Paw but overall I wasn't super impressed with themEach story has its own charm some were wicked some were strange sweet and a bit dark A certain gave me chills even though I heard a different re telling of some years ago still not exactly sure when and where and if I could purchase each story separately that would be one of them I would chooseDespite the off beatness of these stories I was never completely pulled in for most of collection I'm still thinking over these though they have that certain 'pull' to them that 'something' you can't uite pinpointI give Mr Cunningham props though for doing something a bit different with these tales not many fresh ideas out there to re inventre tell fairytales these days and who doesn't love to visit these worlds now and again in some form?This was a good read for me while I wasn't feeling well it was nice to just lay down close my eyes and let my mind drift along with the storiesRecommend? Probably it will most likely be one you will love or feel 'meh' about but still worth the try methinksHappy reading This was good but just good Each fairy tale came with a new twist but the premise was so familiar that it sometimes felt as though you were just reading the same story you've read a thousand times before It's a fast read though and I enjoyed it In fairy tale retellings I think I want something vastly different rather than slightly different For anyone who likes classic tales with tiny tweaks this is the book for you For anyone who wants something read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

  • Audio CD
  • 3 pages
  • A Wild Swan
  • Michael Cunningham
  • English
  • 04 July 2015
  • 9781427262219

About the Author: Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World Flesh and Blood The Hours winner of the PenFaulkner Award & Pulitzer Prize Specimen Days and By Nightfall as well as the non fiction book Land's End A Walk in Provincetown His new novel The Snow ueen will be published in May of 2014 He lives in New York and teaches at Yale University