The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold is the first in Bernheimer’s groundbreaking fairy-tale roman fleuve. This novel introduces the sad middle sister, Ketzia. Young Ketzia inhabits a storybook world of hallucinatory comedy and terror, surrounded by predatory adults, talking magnolias, and troll-like siblings. Her childhood romance with talented, brilliant Adam Brown flowers briefly into a marriage of tenderness, but Ketzia soon finds herself compelled toward intoxicating self-destruction. Bernheimer draws upon the motifs of traditional German, Russian and Yiddish folklore to shape Ketzia's bewildering adventures. This meeting of nursery rhyme and nightmare transforms everyday objects as childhood photos, wine bottles and metal trinkets take on a life of their own, frightening Ketzia. Marked by a logical illogic and disarmingly sane madness, this haunting and innovative fable creates an emotional landscape that's impossible to escape. With an obsessive lyricism recalling the poetic fictions of Carol Maso, Doris Lessing and Clarice Lispector.
Chapter One, The Saltmarsh Tale of Lies
I want to tell you something, so listen. I saw two bathers flying. They flew with their breasts turned heavenward and their backs faced hellward. The first wore a striped bikini, the second a plain pair of trunks. Once I saw a bird in a shake at the boardwalk’s fancy ice-cream stand, and then an anchor and some dune grass swam across the bay just as gracefully as you please. The anchor was surprising but dunegrass is more lovely. Four girls in eyeglasses tried to catch a rabbit that lived in the mansion lawn. The first girl was sad, the second girl was afraid, the third girl was insecure and the fourth girl was just plain mean. Do you want to know what happened? The first saw the animal and tearfully told the second, who ran away to tell the third, who tried in vain to catch the rabbit. Shut up if you don’t believe me. This is all in the country by the sea where a lobster chased me to a field of windflowers enclosed by a wall. Inside I saw a cow, who had gotten there by leaping. There are greenflies and blackflies and dragonflies there. So open the window and let the lies out, I say.
"Original and beautifully written...Kate Bernheimer is an exceptional writer of fiction."
-- Fanny Howe, author of Forged
"The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold is an exceptional book, beautifully enigmatic, speaking a language that mysteriously evokes the unspoken."
-- Lydia Millet, author of Love in Infant Monkeys
“The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold is a truly original approach to the bildungsroman.”
--Kathryn Davis, author of The Thin Place
The tales in The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, Kate Bernheimer's intriguing first novel, are the stories Ketzia tells about herself as child and adult and the stories an omniscient narrator tells about her. Much of Bernheimer's book is based on traditional German, Russian, and Yiddish fairy and folk tales. She updates these by changing time, setting and events, and replacing the innocent--or not so--characters of the original tale with Ketzia, Jewish and born in America in the late sixties or early seventies, and with Ketzia's sisters, parents, grandparents and other relatives, and her husband. Thus "Clever Else" in the original Grimms' tale becomes "Clever Ketzia" in the retelling, and poor Else's misfortune as someone with an overabundance of imagination and no common sense at all is mirrored in a broken leg accidentally inflicted by Ketzia on her fiance and in the unraveling of her marriage. The effect of learning about Ketzia's life in this way is beguiling because although Bernheimer moves the tales out of the once-upon-a-time frame into that of the recent past, she maintains the peculiar quality of the originals, with their mingling of the fantastic and the ordinary. Far from being merely an interesting device, this choice of narrative perfectly reflects the oddity of Ketzia's mind, a mind at times close to psychotic, and battling alienation, depression and despair, yet also capable of astute observations, dry wit and sympathy for others. Dovetailing with the fairy-tale structure and motifs are not only Ketzia's perception of the frequent cruelties and rare delights of life but Bernheimer's knack for capturing the world experienced by a child--how what the child sees and hears is distorted by the inability to distinguish clearly between fiction, dream and reality. A captivating debut novel.
--Review of Contemporary Fiction