Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review: "Boy, Snow, Bird" by Helen Oyeyemi

"Boy, Snow, Bird" by Helen Oyeyemi
First published in 2014
308 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

(image source)

"Boy, Snow, Bird" was not at all the re-telling of Snow White I expected it to be; it was a decent story in its own right, but I was never quite sure what the author wanted me to get out of the tale. I finished and thought: "Well, that was kind of interesting. Now what was the point?"

It's 1953. Our main character is Boy Novak, who runs away from New York City and her abusive father and winds up in a quaint Massachusetts town. There she marries a widower and becomes stepmother to an unusually beautiful and perfect little girl named Snow. When Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird -- who pops out much darker-skinned than expected -- she learns that her husband's family are actually light-skinned African Americans passing as white. Meanwhile, Boy has the ever-worshipped Snow sent away to live with relatives and we get to know Bird as a spunky, likeable young adult. Then there's some journalism taking place and a random plot twist. The end.

This novel had a rather disjointed feel to it. There were so many plotlines, ranging from big to insignificant, but they didn't ever mesh together and many were never really resolved -- and I'm not even sure I know which of the issues was meant to be the main storyline. On top of that, the book changed perspective too often for my taste -- from Boy to Bird and back to Boy, and a portion was totally in letters.

It was as if Oyeyemi just dumped every halfway interesting story idea she had floating around in her head and created the mish-mash that is "Boy, Snow, Bird." (And a unique mish-mash it is... I've never given much thought to how one would fulfill the occupation of rat catcher in New York City as Boy's father does, but I will never forget Oyeyemi's description of the job. Yikes!)

Also, the idea that this is a deconstructed fairy tale is totally off-base. Other than a few mirror references, a stepmother who doesn't really like her stepdaughter (but is far from wicked) and a "fairest of them all" line, this book has absolutely no connection to Snow White.

That said, I did enjoy reading this novel. As soon as I realized the book title represented the names of the book's major players, I was worried it would be too pretentious and literary for my taste -- who names a woman Boy? But the writing turned out to be extremely easy, conversational and full of voice, with some brilliant prose and great lines thrown in every so often. And I did love the '50s setting -- Oyeyemi gave the book a great sense of atmosphere in both New York City and the Massachusetts town of Flax Hill.

I'm not sure if I'd recommend "Boy, Snow, Bird." It had beautiful writing and an innovative plot, but it left me feeling unfulfilled. It ended too abruptly and I wanted more. Perhaps you, fellow readers, can find a deeper meaning in the story than I did.

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