Boy, Snow, Bird: Helen Oyeyemi/Reflections

Monday, March 31, 2014

So many unread books stacked on my floors, on my shelves, on the couch, and still I bought a new one—Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. I blame Porochista Khakpour's review in The New York Times. It was smart; it was seductive.

And so is this book. The story of a run-away, a rat-catcher's daughter (her name is Boy), who arrives in a place called Flax Hill, marries a widower with a fair daughter named Snow, and discovers, when she gives birth to a girl she calls Bird, that the family she has married into has masqueraded all along: they are light-skinned African Americans. The fair, sweet Snow has (unwittingly) allowed this family to live their lie, to hide, to elegantly pretend. Boy will have none of that–or of Snow—once the darker-skinned Bird arrives. Snow is banished. Bird grows up. Weird things happen with spiders, with storytellers, with (but of course) mirrors.

Boy, Snow, Bird must be trusted. Its readers must relinquish their hold. Don't try to guess where this is going. Don't look for Dopey. Don't think Oyeyemi is actually going to chant "Mirror, Mirror on the wall." Don't read thinking that this is all about race or all about fairytales, because it's bigger and more wild than that. Boy, Snow, Bird is brand-new country. It's a young writer (Oyeyemi is not yet thirty but already a veteran of publishing) inventing her own kind of fiction. Her sentences and images, often, are beguiling. Here is Bird, imagining herself in a spiderweb hat:
No, a spiderweb hat is a better warning to beware. Bird would look out from under this hat with the watchful eyes of a girl from long ago, each pupil an unlit lamp, waiting for the magic ring to be rubbed, for the right words to be said. She'd give a lot to know why she and her mom have those eyes—the eyes of people who come from someplace strange they can never go back to. Bird and her mom and that servant-of-the-lamp look they go around giving people. Bird can't think of a single excuse for it.
More and more, I think, we are seeing writers who are willing to go to the edge, to carry us forward, to take daring risks, to suggest that we set aside our expectations and follow along. We see critics embracing the brave and tangled; we see other readers not so sure. There are new fractures breaking in the land of literature. Personally, I'll always be grateful for the sure-footed flights of fancy that abound in books like Boy, Snow, Bird.


Liviania said...

I loved that I couldn't figure out where Boy, Snow, Bird was going. Oyeyemi does a great job of revealing information that changes your perception of what has happened in the narrative.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper II by 2008

Back to TOP