[31 July 2007]
Danielle Wood’s new collection of short stories, Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls shouldn’t be classified as “chick lit” per se. Sure, these dozen tales—parables, really—are both for and about women, but that’s where the similarities to Bridget Jones and company should end.
Wood, a former journalist and now a writing professor at the University of Tasmania, takes her readers on a winding journey across a map of the human heart, touching on such subjects as sex, love, commitment, destiny, and violence. She cuts across the genres of drama, comedy, and even science fiction/fantasy to make this an exciting—even if a little schizophrenic—journey.
The first story in this compendium of anti-fairy tales introduces naïve teenager Rosie Little, the protagonist and narrator of many of the tales, as she’s in the midst of losing her virginity to a prep school boy in a boathouse. After quite a few Rene Pogel (read backwards) cocktails our heroine does the expected after a heavy dinner.
My dinner of lobster thermidor and trifle, marinated in a frothy green soup of crème de menthe and beer erupted from my mouth to cover the straining penis of Gerard Hyphen-Wilson, which was, suddenly, not straining so hard.
After this opening parable, readers assume that we’ll follow Rosie’s travails through womanhood. But that’s not exactly the case. The second story follows Rosie’s cousin Meredith and her bout with Elephantiasis—in this case, yes, Meredith is an obese woman who for some reason has been getting elephant knickknacks as presents—and she hates elephants. The icing on the cake is when her friends and family end her birthday celebration by getting two strippers with elephant masks around their privates—with their wee wees as—well you get the picture.
Other stories in the collection don’t feature Rosie at all. There’s maybe an occasional interjection from our heroine like a treatise on the aquiline nose—which can hamper the flow of the narrative.
Two stories have a hint of Twilight Zone about them and somehow work within the context of cautionary tales for girls. In “The Wardrobe” a young woman moves in with her boyfriend who has a gift for picking out haute couture clothes that fit her perfectly. He buys her everything. Everything’s perfect, right? Seem so, until she makes a startling connection between her situation and the mannequin collection he keeps in the attic.
In “Eden,” a young woman takes a timeout from the business world and moves out to the country with her husband so she can paint and live the artist’s life for awhile. But like many others out there, she can’t quite seem to get started. She procrastinates. Big time. Until one day, an art encyclopedia salesman shows up at her door, offering her the world. It’s the Robert Johnson at the crossroads story written all over again, but Wood pulls it off.
Other stories in the collection don’t work as well—like “Vision in White.” It’s a frivolous story about a bride who Rosie meets in an airport bathroom. She’s still wearing her wedding gown and intends to wear it for the rest of her long journey to Western Australia (they’re at a layover somewhere in Asia). She has this fantasy about stepping onto the plane’s staircase on the tarmac so she’ll look like the perfect bride, i.e. cake topper, for her in-laws, who she hasn’t met yet. Silly girl.
But there’s one story that does haunt the reader once the collection has been finished and given enough time for reflection. “The Anatomy of Wolves” starts off as a story of Rosie’s first real rush of love and romance. She’s a journalist. He’s an actor. They move in together after a few weeks, and we assume that in typical chick lit fashion, the guy will end up being a cad who cheats on her. But sometimes, our assumptions can be wrong. After a night of drinking at his birthday party, Rosie finds out that he’s left for home and left her at the bar. She walks home alone, confused.
…When I got there, he was sitting in the dark. The light I switched on was bright and I saw that he had been crying. The rims of his eyes were stretched and reddened. He looked as if he had been poisoned, his irises a malignant green, his lips and cheeks pale and slack. But I was not sensible enough to be afraid.
He shouted and accused.
‘Why didn’t you just fuck him.’
‘Why didn’t you get on the pool table and spread your legs for him?’
‘You’re not making any sense,’ I said, shouting too.
He stood over me, but I did not back down. Nor did I see it coming. It was too far beyond my experience, too far outside my expectations. His fist felt huge against my small face.
In Wood’s hands, Little Red Riding Hood had never met a wolf so dangerous. And it makes for one of the stronger stories in this compendium.
Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls might be a little scattered of a collection for some readers, but the gems that Wood has planted in her works may serve as good life lessons for those who really don’t believe in fairy tales.