Catherynne M. Valente,
Six-Gun Snow White
(Subterranean Press, 2013)

It's not the fairy tale you know.

But, kind of, it is.

Snow White in this tale is the half-breed daughter of a wealthy mining tycoon in the Old West and a beautiful Crow woman who was more bought than wooed. After the woman's death, the mysterious Mr. H raised his daughter with luxury but without love -- he was rarely in her life at all, and she was treated more as a favored pet than a daughter.

When he remarried, her status fell even further. The new Mrs. H, derisive of this less than human offspring, dubbed her Snow White as a mockery of her dark skin and darker hair. Eventually, the girl fled their unhappy home on a horse named Charming, hunted by a woods-savvy Pinkerton man and finding sanctuary among seven outlaws in her quest for her mother's people.

Snow White's heard her daddy's men talk about Indian Territory. They're skeered and scarred and when they say those words it sounds like their whole world is surrounded by a jungle of cannibal Oberons and night-blooming thunderbirds. Eat you alive and wear your skin, won't they? What roads they got are lined with white men's skulls. If a body gets lost in there he'll never unsee what goes on, painted men dancing and songs like your mother dying and witches boiling bones and girls what turn into wolves. God don't open His eye there. It's Hell or fairyland or both.

Snow White says: sounds good to me.

It's an unusual tale, written with heavy use of metaphor and vernacular, with chapters topped with titles that sound like Native American fables but with seemingly little to do with the action within. It's beautiful and rich and at times a bit poetic.

The story is not without its flaws, however. Time flows unevenly in this tale, and it's rarely clear how many years have passed in given situations. The depth of the first two-thirds of the book grows shallow toward the end; I think I'm not alone in believing the resolution here is vague and uncertain, and a bit unsatisfying.

It's a short novel, not much more than 150 pages, and it's worth reading for the language alone. Sure, the ending disappoints, but I'm glad I got through it.

book review by
Tom Knapp

13 July 2013

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