Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

I’m writing this in the afternoon watching the steady snowfall from a cafe window. It’s been snowing like this all day. Light, unassuming snow that accumulates until you can’t walk outside anymore. By morning, I’ll have to dig myself out of my apartment.

Boy Snow BirdBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is a lot like the weather right now. A really beautiful narrative that builds on itself layer by layer until you’re holding a story that’s as deep and heavy as a snowbank.  The novel is a disguised version of Snow White, published by Penguin, and it borrows many of it’s themes from the fairy tale, like beauty, vanity, deep secrets, and family drama.
A young woman named Boy Novak arrives in the small town of Flax Hill after her abusive father in New York City. She finds work at a bookstore while living in a boarding house, until she meets and marries a local widower named Arturo Whitman. Arturo is father to an 8 year old daughter named Snow who, in true fairy-tale fashion, is the fairest-of-them-all: a gorgeous and captivating girl.  In the beginning, Boy and Snow seem to get along fine, eschewing the “evil stepmother” trope, until Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird. Surprisingly, Bird is born with dark skin and thus reveals the Whitmans’ secret: that they are an African-American family that have been posing as white ever since they arrived in Flax Hill. The novel is set in the early 1950s where segregation and race discrimination is still largely a concern. In Flax Hill, schools have only just begun teaching both white and coloured children together. The Whitmans, being lighter skinned, have maintained that identity in order better their opportunities. Once Bird is born, Boy, for reasons that could be read as good or evil, empathy or jealousy, sends Snow away to live with her aunt, exiling her from the family.

In three separate parts, we get to hear the conflicted voices of each woman: Boy, Snow and Bird. The novel slows a bit in the middle section when Bird takes over the narrative with letters to her sister. Her voice, however, is full of pre-teen musings that’s a perfect mix of self consciousness, imagination and budding worldly-awareness. The estranged sisters try to sort out the complicated reasons behind their separated upbringings and the attitudes of those around them. From daughter to mother to grandmother, each woman carries with them the burden of the mirror and finding their place in the world alongside one another. Oyeyemi’s characters are flawed, every one of them, but her writing is rich and flowery. There isn’t one villain or one heroine in Boy, Snow, Bird. Instead, Oyeyemi lets her women take turns as each, giving us a chance to see the many sides of a curious and engaging tale.

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Profile: The Call of Cthulhu & Other Weird Stories

You can’t really review something like Cthulhu, the enigmatic extraterrestrial entity that has spawned it’s own mythos and who’s name is important enough to be autocorrected. Instead, you finally get a down to reading H.P Lovecraft’s short stories, featuring the great Cthulhu and find out th origin of this pinnacle figure in the classic horror genre. The figure Cthulhu first appeared in 1928 in a pulp magazine as a mix between a human, octopus and dragon with wings in the back and feelers in the front. In his short story “The Call of Cthluhu“, 3 short chapters unveil the legend of Cthulhu, an ancient celestial creature who came to Earth billions of years ago and was trapped under the sea inside the submerged ghost-like city of R’yleh. A mysterious cult forms around the mythology of Cthulhu and the Old Ones (giant ancient gods), spawning madness, fever dreams and a crazed, ritualistic, and unexplainable history of worship.
Fear is born out of the unknown and Lovecraft is pretty crafty (ha) at dipping his narratives in a thick slimy layer of mystique. This is the kind of fantasy-horror that’s timeless, something so big and menacing it can put our whole Lilliputian human race to it’s knees. Much has been inspired by Cthulhu, songs, radio shows, films, art….

Lovecraft’s other “weird” stories are short, concise and rich with essay-like prose, often depicting or suggesting supernatural mysteries from exotic locations like the African jungle, the rural Americas, the deep sea or the sinister history of family lineages. A twist ending is to be expected, one that builds from the opening line (a line that acts like an exposed root to a deeper, darker story that grows out from it.). The terror lies in that build up, in the seemingly normal storytelling until the great reveal. And this reveal comes through the eyes of an unsuspecting human that has little idea of what he’s getting himself into or in what kind of malevolent world he lives in.

For some classic horror, H.P Lovecraft was a great place to start. I could see it becoming a reading tradition every Halloween…especially with the bespectacled caricature found on the cover of this Penguin Classic edition.