The Merry Spinster

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Review #40: Fiction

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

MerrySpinster

This collection of stories will feel at once familiar and darkly, deliciously fresh.

Though fairytales and fables, these stories carry such a refreshing air of reality. They drip with a dark, sinister unpredictability that flows through our real lives. Ortberg forces the reader to see each retelling and re-imagination through a new lens, one that refocuses the otherworldly and fantastic as real. Remove the preconceived idea that mermaids aren’t real, that animals don’t talk or interact with each other in friendships, or that little boys don’t turn into swans; what do their lives look like? They are as complex and flawed as our own. And they can be similarly heartbreaking and cruel.

With every story, we are given a new glimpse into worlds and situations we thought we already knew. Readers will feel the heart-string tugs of the stories that inspired this collection, nostalgia working to convince us that we know how each story ends. But Ortberg rewrites the script, opening our narrow perceptions to something more – cruel realities of these fairytales we’ve come to love. What may be expected to tarnish the memory of beloved fairytales and fables ultimately elevates them, allowing these stories to grow and mature with the audience.

Ortberg does not shy away from the harsh and unfair or unsavory elements of life, and allows these aspects to shine in this collection. She has given us our favorite stories, with an honest, relatable tone that is unencumbered by preconceived notions of a “happily ever after” ending. We, and our stories, are better for it.

4 out of 5 stars

*Cover image from Amazon

 

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Spinster

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Review #25: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #6

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

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I was pretty excited to read this book; I’d heard some good things about it, friends had highly recommended it, and having recently ended my own engagement, it seemed like a fitting read as far as timing goes.

I didn’t, however, find what I was expecting. I thought it would be funnier, for starters. Though there are definitely tidbits here and there that forced a smile, a giggle, and in one case, an all-out head-thrown-back laugh, it is a mostly very serious book. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, but it did turn me off a little. There are things in life that humor helps ease, and coming to terms with the realities of human relationships and romance is, in my opinion, one of them.

Bolick give us a ton of information about her “awakeners” (the women who inspire or have influenced her “spinster” lifestyle) in this book. She has absolutely done her research and really brings these women to life through her own commentary about them, as well as their own writing and other secondary sources describing them in detail. Part of me loves all these details and inclusions, and part of me feels it was too much. At one point I felt like staying, “Alright already. If I wanted to know this much about this woman, I would read her biography and her life’s work myself.” I was left knowing a lot about Bolick’s “awakeners” but wanting for how they really influenced Bolick –what I was ultimately hoping for from this book.

It also felt extremely dated. Many of the women Bolick writes about span all the way back to the 1800s and the majority of their lives and decisions play out in the early 1900s. Bolick herself is writing about her life mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. I had never heard of many of the women and other influencers Bolick mentions, and felt their lives and choices really couldn’t be related to the lives of women today. I definitely didn’t feel like I could really relate to Bolick well – in some ways, of course, but the world has changed so drastically from even the 1990s that these anecdotes fell rather flat.

Bolick’s life, arguable much more recent, felt distant from life for women (especially women writers in New York City today.) Many of the opportunities Bolick and others she writes had about just don’t exist in NY today. The publishing industry just isn’t the same, and Bolick’s opportunities and successes in NY offered her greater options in her personal life than many would be offered today. This is wonderful for her, don’t get me wrong (I’m admittedly jealous of what she was able to accomplish and the relationships she was able to experience), but I was unable to really connect to the writing knowing how these experiences probably couldn’t exist today.

Overall, the book started slowly, picked up in the middle but eventually became distant from the reader. Though there are a few grains of wisdom and valuable insight sprinkled throughout, it is by no means a must read.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.