Francesca Lia Block,
The Rose & the Beast:
Fairy Tales Retold

(HarperCollins, 2000)

Francesca Lia Block's earlier works have a fairy-tale aura, and in The Rose & the Beast she applies her gifts to retelling familiar tales. She puts her own modern L.A. spin on the nine stories she chooses to retell, yet retains their essence.

In "Snow," a child grows up in a house filled with warmth and love, raised by seven dwarf brothers who love her deeply. They try in vain to protect her from harm, but the power of their love ultimately overrides adversity. "Tiny" is a take on "Thumbelina" but with a feisty, more proactive heroine who leaves home on her own and becomes a young poet's muse. The heroine of "Glass" is content to sweep and cook and clean, sustained by stories which she shares with her sisters. When a fairy sends her to the dance, she faces hate, jealousy and insecurity but finds a prince who can see to her core and values what he sees.

"Charm" follows Rev through abuse and addiction, a beautiful girl grown into a beautiful woman stabbed by "Old-Woman-Heroin's" needle. An actress named Charm offers her a place to rest, to heal, to wake her soul. "Wolf" recounts a girl's escape from an abusive stepfather to her grandmother's house in the desert, where she finds that she has no choice but to face the wolf after all. "Rose" tells the poignant and familiar story of two friends, Rose Red and Rose White, who are closest companions until one of them finds a reason to step away from the other.

"Bones" is a chilling retelling of "Bluebeard," in which a girl discovers enough self-worth to save herself. "Beast" starts out as a fairly close retelling of "Beauty & the Beast" but takes a sharp twist at the end. The collection concludes with "Ice," about an artist and a musician who relationship is driven apart by an icy, grasping beauty who robs them of their innocence.

Each story is a tiny multifaceted gem, sometimes surreal and obscure but filled with evocative language. Block successfully infuses each story with her own unique style, appealing to the senses and conveying rich imagery within her spare yet descriptive writing. Also, be sure to take a good look at Suza Scalora's subtly scary cover.

For a collection of retold fairy tales that is a cut above the common, check out Francesca Lia Block's The Rose & the Beast.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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