Thursday, October 3, 2019

Review: The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager

We've all read fairy tales. In fact, there's an accepted, most common version of the fairy tales we know today, versions that are most likely aggregates of the various once oral versions. The Grimm brothers, in collecting the stories they did, determined how we know them (at least until Disney sanitized them) today. How did they choose which versions to tell? Were there variants they left out, ignored? Lindsey Drager, in her ambitious and unconventional novel The Archive of Alternate Endings, delves into the story of Hansel and Gretel, what the Grimms chose to include and exclude, and how this deceptively simple tale continues to inform stories throughout centuries, checking in every 75 years or so by riding the tail of Halley's Comet through time.

Braiding the narratives of different people from 1378 to 2365, Drager repeats the themes of homosexuality, siblings, love, and the power of story--who tells them and how their choices shape not just the stories but the ideas of the people who hear them. The narrative spans a thousand years from ancient times into the future and then loops back on itself. Like Hansel and Gretel in the woods, the reader follows a path into the story and just when they think they are lost, Drager leaves clues to lead them back to understanding. Images are repeated from century to century, telling to telling, linking the stories, spiraling out from the central tale of Hansel and Gretel and the variant the Grimms chose not to tell as much as the one they did. This is a quick read but not an easy one because the unconventional narrative feels unmoored and unconnected in the beginning, only coming into tight clarity as the story progresses. Those who are not wedded to a traditional novel and want to push their understanding of story will find much to work through here.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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