By Helen Oyeyemi
Available now from Riverhead (Penguin Random House
I've heard quite a bit of praise for British novelist Helen Oyeyemi, who is known for combining mythology and other traditional stories with more commonplace matter. BOY, SNOW, BIRD is her fifth novel and the first one I've read. I'm having difficultly untangling my feelings about it.
BOY, SNOW, BIRD is inspired by Snow White and American history. (It's set in the fifties.) Boy, the narrator of the first and the last section, is a young woman who runs away from home when it becomes clear that her father might kill her one day. She makes a new life for herself in a small town, friendships, dates, a job, the works. But her new life has unexpected complications, including the other two eponymous characters. Bird narrates the second part, and Snow doesn't narrate at all. I want Snow's point of view, but it makes sense, given that so much of the book is about how people perceive Snow and whether their perception is right.
One thing I truly enjoyed is how my perception of BOY, SNOW, BIRD changed as I was reading it. It wasn't the story I - or Boy - expected. There are, for instance, little seeds of what will become major plot points in the first half, but it's easy to overlook them as just bits of set dressing. BOY, SNOW, BIRD is a novel that tackles complex subjects while keeping the focus on people and their actions. The Snow White theme provides structure, but BOY, SNOW, BIRD has no easily digestible moral.
My issue is that I felt adrift at the end of the novel. I was thoroughly engrossed, and then it ended. There's a small catharsis at the end, but very small. I felt like the characters' journeys weren't through. I don't think there was much story left, but there was something. I was fascinated by BOY, SNOW, BIRD and thought it was full of wonderful ideas wonderfully expressed. But in the end, I'm not sure that it went anywhere or that anything really happened. It is perhaps too quiet and subtle.
BOY, SNOW, BIRD blends literary fiction quite beautifully with just a hit of fairytale sensibility. I loved Boy, and her complicated relationships with the people she loves. Bird and Snow were likewise interesting, compelling characters. Halfway through BOY, SNOW, BIRD, I thought it was going to be a favorite. But I don't love it, although I do think it was a good reading experience. I am eager to read more of Oyeyemi's work.