Hugo rec: Six-Gun Snow White

The deadline for Hugo voting is the day after tomorrow, so I'd better finally post a couple of the things I've been meaning to post.

In this post: My thoughts about Catherynne Valente's novella “Six-Gun Snow White.”

Short version of my reaction to the story: Wow. Lovely language, lovely images, lovely powerful metaphors. A couple bits that took my breath away. All-around good.

Definitely gets my #1 vote in the novella category; in fact, I think it's my favorite piece in all three short-fiction categories. (There are other stories on the ballot that I like plenty, but I think I like this one best.)

In addition to finding the language stunning, I also thought the whole story was remarkably rich, tying together a bunch of different stuff in interesting and unexpected-to-me ways. And I liked the politics, too. I didn't love the ending, but most of the rest of the story worked so well for me that that was fine.

Spoilery discussion follows.

Most of my comments down below focus on stuff that didn't work so well for me, because my reaction to the stuff that did work for me wasn't terribly analytical, just a lot of the abovementioned “wow.”

But I will say this specific positive thing first: a bunch of other things I've been reading lately have annoyed me in one way or another; in particular, I've been seeing a lot of clunky sentences lately. So it was a delight to be reminded, by this story, of how much I like it when language is this smooth, when a viewpoint voice is this strong. “The ladies wore dresses like springtime and egg whites.” The champagne fountain “looked like starlight you could drink.” And this about how she got her name:

Mrs. H called me something new. She named me cruel and smirking, she named me not for beauty or for cleverness or for sweetness. She named me a thing I could aspire to but never become, the one thing I was not and could never be: Snow White.

Here are a few notes on things that didn't work so well for me:

  • I don't get the chapter titles. Are they all titles of traditional Coyote stories? Some of them seem like kind of a stretch. I found some of them intriguing, but enough of them felt a little forced that I felt that Valente wasn't as fully in control with them as she was with some other aspects.
  • Why the shift from first person to third? I guess just so she can introduce the deer-boy POV later, but that shift felt a little weak to me.
  • I was mildly annoyed at the Schrödinger's Cat chapter; I was worried that that was going to be the end, and that would've felt like cop-out to me. So I'm glad Valente didn't go with that option.
  • Snow White's desire for suicide was my least favorite part of the story; it kind of bugged me. I feel like there's a thread of self-hatred going on there, but I'm not entirely clear why or where it came from, and it feels out of character to me from what we've seen of her up to that point. I love the portrayal of the complicated relationship between the two of them, Snow White's twisted understanding of love as being what Mrs. H offered her; but I also wanted her to have learned, since leaving home, that that wasn't really love. I think there's a lot of unresolved anger and fear and despair going on in her head. But I'm still not quite following the connection between the emotional spaces that she goes through in that sequence. Obviously Valente needed some kind of a way to address the poisoned-apple-puts-Snow-White-to-sleep part of the fairytale, and this way Snow White has agency; she isn't just duped, she understands what's going on and chooses it. But I don't really understand why.

Anyway. So I didn't feel that the story was entirely perfect. But overall, I really liked it a lot.

(Side note, while I'm here: At first I assumed Mr. H was entirely fictional. Then at the very end I wondered if he was meant to be William Randolph Hearst, but too much didn't fit. Then weeks after reading the story, I happened across a mention of George Hearst, the father of William Randolph Hearst, whose biography fits a whole lot better. So I'm now thinking that Mr. H may've been intended as a fictionalized version of George Hearst. A review of the story takes that for granted, so maybe it was obvious to some readers, but I had never heard of Hearst père.)

(See also Facebook thread for this post.)

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