I’ve always liked deconstructed fairy tales, whether it’s through the works of Gregory Maguire or Robin McKinley. Fairy tales are always so distant—you’re not reading a story, you’re reading a lesson. When Cinderella, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty gets a face and a voice, the tale is personalized. You’re invested. So, Beauty, a novel by Sherri S. Tepper didn’t have to work that hard to snag me. Unfortunately, things then turned weird.
Beauty, the daughter of a duke and a mysterious missing woman, is a loquacious, vain teenager in the 15th century. When she discovers that a curse is to be laid on her when she turns 16, Beauty escapes into the world, leaving her half-sister behind to take the brunt of a sleeping curse that spans a century. Fine, this I can handle. Suddenly, she stumbles upon a film crew from the deep end of twenty-first century sent to film a documentary about the end of magic. Stolen away with the film makers, she explores the terrors of the 21st century, the calm before the storm of the 20th century, and then a world created and abandoned by an ancient writer.
Say what now? This is where I’ll stop because you have to read it for yourself.
Tepper, though an incredibly imaginative author, suffers from something that I think all writers battle: too many ideas. Beauty has so many swirling ideas that it’s difficult to pin them down and analyze. There’s environmentalism, a criticism of organized religion, a rant against those who create ugly works (mostly horror writers, for some reason), and the exploration of the worlds that writers create. Even just picking one of these themes would make for a thoughtful book, one that would allow readers to meditate on the message. Instead, Tepper’s novel doesn’t allow the reader to stop and think before throwing them into a swirling stew of ideas and opinions. If you love books that take you places that you have never been before, then this book is for you; if you want something straight forward, better leave this one in the bowels of Amazon.com.