The Flounder’s Kiss

“The Flounder’s Kiss” Michael Cadnum

Found in Black Swan, White Raven edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Avon Books, 1997, also available via Kindle.  

This is a short story that is clearly written by a man. Not to say that women can’t compose plenty of misogynistic type stories, but there was something about the tone of the interaction between the husband and the wife that was so enmeshed in gender norms.  This is something that many traditional fairy tales are, of course, filled with. None of which is to say that I disliked the story. I actually very much enjoyed it. The writing is beautifully descriptive and captivating. It’s quite the ode to various fish and fishing.

As with many short stories, this is all about the twist at the end, in this case on the trope of the magic wish giving fish.  I found the twist at the end, which I won’t spoil beyond to say it cries out to the Little Mermaid, a fantastic trickster element for such a short piece. The emotional distress the fisherman undergoes in a few shot pages from the stress that the magical situation has placed on him is well evoked and one can’t blame him for the choice that he makes, even if his wife is a totally undeveloped fairy tale trope of a greedy shrew of a wife. But, the language and the comeuppance make it totally worth while to read this particular story.

Plot – 5/5  Character – 3.5/5 Thought – 4.5/5 Diction – 5/5
Music – 4/5 Spectacle – n/a
Overall 4.5/5


Enchanted – Alethea Kontis

Enchanted starts out so promising. A seeming retelling of “The Frog Prince” initially, I loved the opening parts of the book and the establishment of Sunday as a character who loves to write but is afraid her words will come true and so only writes what has happened.  It’s an interesting concept that never fully got explored to my satisfaction, unfortunately.  Grumble, too seemed a refreshing character and their early meetings and budding friendship was written beautifully by Konthis.  I was willing to buy their exchanges making him human again.

But then I have to admit that I lost a bit of interest in Sunday and the Woodcutters in general.  I can see what Alethea Konthis was doing in trying to open up this world to the multitude of characters that inhabit it and show the depth of fairy tale inspiration under which this family lives.  I think, however, that much of this came at the expense of Sunday and her story.  Generally speaking, I am quite fond of the mixing of fairy tale elements generally speaking.  The early part of the book which I responded so well too was clearly planting seeds of the future stories, but then it became a bit too convoluted.  All of the stories were suddenly attempting to co-exist.  Did Sunday really have to suddenly also be a Cinderella character? And then gain vaguely all powerful magic (more than she already maybe had?)  On the one hand, the fact that her powers were not the solution to all the problems was a refreshing shift. But on the other hand it also furthered my lack of clarity (or care?) about how she was developing as a person.  It was as if once Grumble became Rumbold her trajectory seemed to stop in order to mostly be a figure who ran away as needed by the plot.  That’s not to say that she doesn’t clearly have agency in her story and that for the most part she’s written in the feminist vein that we’ve come to expect modern retellings, but the focus just shifted away from her.  Her magic was wrapped up in a neat little package, but not really used. She and Rumble didn’t really talk, but we only got his perspective on that mostly.  There were a couple of moments, as I think back, weeks after reading where she did speak to her parents, and these I think were included and well shaped.

There wasn’t really an awareness in this world that the character’s were following pre-dictated stories in the way that, for example, Mercedes Lackey has been playing with in her Fairy Tale Kingdom books.  At the same time though, there was clearly meant to be an importance to the world on stories and telling them, but it kept flickering in and out of focus.

I do actually have interest in continuing to read these books as I suspect that part of what happened is that this book became so focused on setting up a Series that the story of Sunday and Rumble may have just become less interesting as she started to expand the world.  It did have the feeling that some books with intense world building have where the main characters are not nearly as interesting as the minor ones encountered along the way. (Wheel of Time I am looking at you…)

I certainly can’t say that I didn’t enjoy reading the book, or that there weren’t strong elements.  There were. And I did.  Perhaps it comes down to the fact that I was expecting a slightly different story, or that some of the fairy tales thrown in felt a bit forced because there were simply too many story threads making too many plots to do justice to each.   As massive fairy tale retelling projects go it’s interesting to see theses pitfalls, but at the same time this book is so filled with glimmers of what could be.  I have hope that an interesting series develops as each of the Woodcutter’s stories are told.  Then again, given how much seems to halve already been told in this volume I worry about what is left, but I do hope to be surprised.

Now, can we talk about the blandness and lack of connection of the cover art?  It was a pretty picture  and maybe somewhat depicts the character described – she’s blond at least. It’s a charming princess dress. But this is a pretty painting of a bland love interest and not the active participant in her story that Konthis portrays.  The next one for Saturday looks significantly more ridiculous.  But it’s pretty art, I guess?

Plot -3.5/5, Character – 3/5, Thought – 4/5, Diction- 4/5, Music – 3/5, Spectacle 1/5

Overall – 3.5/5

How I Review

Aristotle tells us in the Poetics that a tragedy needs six elements – roughly plot, character,thought, diction, music and spectacle.  Now many would argue that tragedy is an odd place to start for rating fairy tales as they hardly fit an Oedipus type of model. However, I’m a theatre scholar and I am adapting these characteristics anyway for my rating system.   At some point I’ll post on fairy tales and tragedy and why I justify this but for now –

Plot – Does it make sense? Is it creative or original in some way? How does it manipulate the original story?

Character – Are they interesting? Vivid? Are the motivations clear? Do they make sense with the style of writing?

Thought – How does the story interact with the themes of the original tale? What is the value in reading this version?

Diction –  What is the writing style?

Music – What is the overall flow of the structure of the way the story is told?

Spectacle – Does the cover art make sense? The illustrations?