Fairy Tale Friday: Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

March 26, 2010 at 12:30 am Leave a comment

I had figured I would enjoy Red Spikes more than I did Tender Morsels, and I was right. Margo Lanagan is totally against giving her readers easy answers, and similarly loves creating fantasy worlds where the reader is often unaware of all of the rules, two qualities that might make her a better short story writer than a novelist.

In a short story, one expects there to be little closure, little exposition. There’s simply no room for such things, and what the reader encounters is more a snapshot of an author’s world than a full photo album. Red Spikes is like a bunch of photographs you took on an awesome vacation that you find at the bottom of a shoebox under your bed five years later; beautiful, unexpected, and somehow better for not having been presented in fancy frames on the coffee table.

My favorite of Lanagan’s stories is called “A Good Heart.” The story is inspired by Cinderella, I think, and tells the story of a young man who was in love with a laundress who went on to marry a nobleman. The young man is clearly torn up about the new marriage, and as a result follows the marriage party into the woods as they set out for the nuptial reception. Suddenly, the former laundress sneaks away into the woods, escaping her maids and her new husband alike for the space of a few minutes.

The young man follows her as she crosses a river and heads for an old tree. At this point, the reader is in a dither; will the former lovers reunite? Will there be a heart-wrenching scene where they must part forever, or will they run off together in a glowing reiteration of the proverb, omnia vincit amor?

But as Lanagan fans know, the latter is impossible and the former is highly improbable. What really happens is that the young woman, not realizing she’s being watched, unintentionally reveals a secret that breaks the young man’s heart and could destroy her future if it’s ever revealed. Very dramatic and very sad, given the nature of the secret.

Lanagan doesn’t shy away from grit and gore, but she does soften the blow by ensuring the reader realizes the young man will keep the former laundress’ secret.

This isn’t the only good story in the collection; I also liked the one about the Catholic concept of Limbo, the one about a budgie who becomes a sort of guardian angel, and the one about a little girl who watches her mother call down a god. The collection, as a whole, is enjoyable for any fairy tale lover — at least worth borrowing, if only for the sake of conducting your own Fairy Tale Friday!

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