Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge
(Illustrated by Andrea Dezso)

Release Date
: July 10th 2012
Pages: 96
Format: E-galley
Source: NetGalley/Publisher
Publisher: Candlewick
Buy It: Book Depository
Once upon a time, there was a strung-out match girl who sold CDs to stoners. Twelve impetuous sisters escaped King Daddy's clutches to jiggle and cavort and wear out their shoes. And Little Red Riding Hood confessed that she kind of wanted to know what it's like to be swallowed whole. From bloodied and blinded stepsisters (they were duped) to a chopped-off finger flying into a heroine's cleavage, this is fairy tale world turned upside down.
This isn't a book I disliked, but there wasn't anything that special about it either. If a writer is going to revisit fairytales, especially in verse form, I feel like there should be something really exciting and original about their execution. Unfortunately, even though there were passages and poems I enjoyed in Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses, when I finished the book I was left thinking Transformations by Anne Sexton is so much better. Not exactly the thought I was hoping to have.

There's a nice bit of snark and contemporary wit to Koertge's writing, and it was one of the things I did enjoy about this collection. In "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", he writes "Don't you just / love a curse with an escape clause?" a sentiment that rings true for the fast majority of fairytales,  at least once Disney gets its hands on them.  In "The Ogre Queen", Koertge quips, "Sleeping Beauty? Just another narcoleptic with a pretty / face if you ask me."

Then there are poems that are less successful, ones that seem more like snippets then the full story. "Little Match Girl" was an unpleasant surprise because it rhymes, but there were others that simply didn't make an impact at all.

In addition, the illustrations in this book as done by Andrea Dezso, at least the e-copy I had, are beautiful. I'm pretty sure they are made using paper cut-outs, which is a unique and enchanting technique, perfect for what Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses contains. However, my favourite illustration is actually featured on the cover, while many of them seemed to tell stories more interesting than the poems themselves.

Even though I wanted more from this book, more to the poems, more to the story, more than its slim 96 pages, there were still moments that left an impact. In "Wolf", Koertge writes:
"we take him out, leaving just a few
bones so the message is clear:

This is our forest. Perfect before you came.
Perfect again when all your kind is dead."
Is Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses worth picking up? If it interests you, sure, though I'd test out a library copy first. But if you're looking for the real genius of fairytale retellings in verse, I can't help once again recommending Anne Sexton's Transformations- it's everything I wanted from Koertge's Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses but didn't quite manage to get.

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