Coffee House Press, 2010
In Kate Bernheimer's familiar and spare—yet wondrous—world, an exotic dancer builds her own cage, a wife tends a secret basement menagerie, a fishmonger's daughter befriends a tulip bulb, and sisters explore cycles of love and violence by reenacting scenes from Star Wars. Enthralling, subtle, and poetic, this collection takes readers back to the age-old pleasures of classic fairy tales and makes them new. Their haunting lessons are an evocative reminder that cracking open the door to the imagination is no mere child's play, that delight and tragedy lurk in every corner, and that we all "have the key to the library . . . only be careful what you read."
The cottage into which my companion had broken, rather than allow me, in my desperately wounded condition, to pass a night in the thick-wooded forest, was one of those miniaturized and hand-carved curiosities from the old German folk-tales that make people roll their eyes in scorn. This, despite the great popularity of a collection of German stories published the very same year of my birth! As to the justifiability of this scornful reaction: I cannot abide it, nor can I avoid it by altering the facts. This is where I found myself: in a fairy-tale cottage deep in the woods. And I had no use of my legs.
"Horse, Flower, Bird rests uneasily between the intersection of fantasy and reality, dreaming and wakefulness, and the sacred and profane. Like a series of beautiful but troubling dreams, this book will linger long in the memory. Kate Bernheimer is reinventing the fairy tale."
—Peter Buck, R.E.M.
"Each of these spare and elegant tales rings like a bell in your head. memorable, original, and not much like anything you've read."
—Karen Joy Fowler
“A strange and enchanting book, written in crisp, winning sentences; each story begs to be read aloud and savored.”
"Horse, Flower, Bird" is a collection of stories which reinvents the fairy tale. Coming to us from Coffee House Press, this book is levitating over my kitchen table. It's that good.
--Main Street Book Review
In eight hauntingly poetic fairy tales, Bernheimer roots deep into the hyperimagination and fears of lonely girls and the estranged women they become. When a little girl’s pet parakeet dies, she runs away from home and later becomes an exotic dancer who builds her own cage. Two sisters perform imaginary scenarios from Star Wars in which love never triumphs. A girl abandons her sister’s friendship for that of a doll, and later for an imaginary friend whose disappearance leaves her psychotic. A young Jewish girl suffers from guilt and a fear of incineration after her friends and family fail to comprehend her intense desire for atonement. And in the collection’s most heartrending story, a woman hides a petting zoo in her basement, convinced that her secret is preserving her overworked husband’s stability. By turns lovely and tragic, Bernheimer’s spare but captivating fables of femininity resonate like a string of sad but all-too-real and meaningful dreams. This is a collection readers won’t soon forget, one that redefines the fairy tale into something wholly original.
This is a collection of eight imaginative if not downright unusual tales that will delight readers but also evoke sadness and loneliness. Bernheimer’s lean and lyrical writing conceals forceful and spirited stories that will definitely prove disturbing, as in the collection’s last, dreamlike tale, “Whitework.” Other stories, like the penultimate “A Star Wars Tale,” will bring back strong memories of childhood as they communicate an innocent understanding of the world that is simultaneously beautiful and perhaps brutal. Bernheimer’s passion for fairy tales is evident in every story she spins, which should come as no surprise—she is founder and editor of Fairy Tale Review, and her previous works (e.g., The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold) draw heavily on classic fairy tales from many countries to create wonderfully original new ones. Bernheimer’s work provides a refreshing contrast to most available fiction. It is no stretch to compare her to Aimee Bender or Kelly Link.