Wednesday, September 7, 2022

How To Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann Review

Today Audra recommends How To Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann. We hope you'll check it out! 

How to be Eaten by Maria Adelmann

"This darkly funny and provocative novel reimagines classic fairy tale characters as modern women in a support group for trauma.

In present-day New York City, five women meet in a basement support group to process their traumas. Bernice grapples with the fallout of dating a psychopathic, blue-bearded billionaire. Ruby, once devoured by a wolf, now wears him as a coat. Gretel questions her memory of being held captive in a house made of candy. Ashlee, the winner of a Bachelor-esque dating show, wonders if she really got her promised fairy tale ending. And Raina's love story will shock them all.

Though the women start out wary of one another, judging each other’s stories, gradually they begin to realize that they may have more in common than they supposed . . . What really brought them here? What secrets will they reveal? And is it too late for them to rescue each other?

Dark, edgy, and wickedly funny, this debut for readers of Carmen Maria Machado, Kristen Arnett, and Kelly Link takes our coziest, most beloved childhood stories, exposes them as anti-feminist nightmares, and transforms them into a new kind of myth for grown-up women."

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Audra's Review

Fairytale retellings always feel like a comfortable and cozy venture to me. I love the shared knowledge that starts us all on the same level as the story, and then the magic comes when that veneer is lifted away and something entirely new is spun out of the expected. The obvious foremother here is Angela Carter and her inimitable The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, which I'd be remiss not to mention since How to Be Eaten takes on some of the same source material. My personal interest in fractured fairytales was jumpstarted when a librarian read my class The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which I still highly recommend, and was more recently revived by Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, a more modern iteration that is also interested in the feminist underpinnings Carter made so famous. This is barely scratching the surface of fairytale retellings, and all of this is really just to say that writing in this arena comes with a fair amount of baggage and expectations.

Adelmann's take on the trope centers on a therapy group attended by Ruby (a girl who once had a disturbing encounter with a wolf), Bernice (whose husband told her not to go into his secret room), Gretel (who can't quite remember the truth of her childhood kidnapping), Ashlee (the winner of a reality dating TV show), and Raina (who once had help from a man to spin garbage into gold).

Exploring the aftereffects of the intense and inevitable trauma of situations found in fairytales is a genius idea. I love the concept that these women all became celebrities because of their experiences and have lived in the public eye ever since. Whatever truth they thought they knew about their experience has been mangled by the sensationalizing and rumors and half-truths kept alive by the media and hungry voyeurs. The fairytale you thought you knew is already a lie—so good! The characters are stuck in repetitive and damaging loops and are not fully able to shake off their trauma because it keeps being foisted back upon them, and no one really gets it. Except maybe they can understand each other? It is a thoughtful and timely take on age-old stories that gets at something new and universal about experiencing and internalizing trauma.

The book reads almost more like connected short stories than a full novel, and I may have enjoyed the conceit more if that were the case. As a novel, the threads loosen and don't hold together by the end. There are two main disconnects. The first is between the traditional fairytale stories that have fantastical components such as talking wolves and the modern realism of others like the reality dating show. While reality TV is obviously not really real in its own way, this book doesn't leverage that insight to make a clear point about it.

The second disconnect for me was that some of the women's stories were actually connected to each other while others were not at all. Some of the stories were given a lot more space, giving me time to really connect with the character, and others were held back for a big reveal (view spoiler). It all ended up feeling like disconnected ideas that were Frankenstein-ed together without a full exploration of their common ground.

Still, it's an interesting concept and a welcome addition to the world of fairytale retellings.

My thanks to Little, Brown for my advance copy of this one.

Thank you for joining us today! Please share your thoughts about How to Be Eaten and any recent reads with us in the comments below.

We are currently accepting horror fiction and horror adjacent fiction written by diverse authors in print and epub format ONLY. If this is you, please visit our review submission page here.

Audra and her horror hound, Ouija, help manage the Horror Spotlight Instagram page, and our monthly release update post. When not ghost hunting or rollerskating, she also contributes articles and helps maintain the website. You can find Audra on Instagram as @ouija.reads, Twitter as @audraudraudra, and Goodreads.

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