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  • Beyond Golems: Review of Burning Girls and Other Stories
  • Jeana Jorgensen (bio)
Schanoes, Veronica, Burning Girls and Other Stories. Tor, 2021. 336 pp. $25.99. (hardcover)

Many fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings could be said to be complicit with the ruling class: poor protagonists ascend to nobility or the throne, while rich children brought low by fate or wicked family members regain their wealth and status. Not every fairy tale follows this pattern (and a certain number of global folktales celebrate the trickster who pranks the upper class rather than joining them), but enough do so that the typical fairy-tale "HEA"—happily ever after—includes both a heterosexual marriage and a rise in social and economic standing.

In the short fiction collection Burning Girls, one of the many impressive things that Veronica Schanoes accomplishes is disrupting this complicity: she shows us working-class and immigrant fairy-tale protagonists whose hopes for a better life may or may not ever arrive, and when they do, they rarely involve riches. Schanoes also explores the complicated connections between fairy tales and Jewish identity, along with gender identity and sexual orientation, and these themes weave in and out of her thirteen stories persistently, contributing to the collection's resonance and relevance.

Scholars of fairy tales and the fantastic will find much to appreciate here. Some of the stories are explicit fairy-tale retellings, while others utilize fairy-tale motifs in novel, newly contextualized ways. "Lily Glass" retells "Snow White" and "Ballroom Blitz" retells "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," though from the perspective of the princes, twelve punks who seek redemption while magically bound to the nightclub they once trashed. "Phosphorous" revisits Hans [End Page 117] Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" while "Burning Girls" revises "Rumplestiltskin," though both do so from the perspective of working-class immigrant women, utterly transforming the tales in the process of retelling them. "Among the Thorns" is actually a sequel to a fairy tale, a revenge story rooted in Jewish folklore following the daughter of the man who was killed in the Grimms' text, "The Jew in the Thornbush." That tale depicts a humble German servant who receives magical gifts due to his kindness and uses them to torture and eventually kill a Jewish man, all while being lauded as the tale's hero; it is not commonly included in mass market editions of the Grimms' fairy tales anymore, and Schanoes's proposed sequel to the story is devastating and essential reading. In Schanoes's revisions, the notorious Russian witch Baba Yaga invites Emma Goldman over for tea in one story, while in another, the Alice in Carroll's Alice in Wonderland haunts the girl whose life was her inspiration. Still other stories reject the familiarity of the fairy-tale form and only sprinkle references throughout—to the paths of pins and needles, to a rampaging Queen of Hearts, to a fairy's christening curse—while utilizing more modern and fabulist conventions.

The sheer Jewishness of many of these stories opens up another important conversation on the role of religion in the fantastic and questions which religions are valorized or stigmatized. Christianity has plenty of representation within the fantastic as a whole (with Aslan from Narnia and other savior-figures), and Buddhism has some too (I'm fond of thinking of the Jedi as Space Buddhists). As someone of Jewish descent, though, I've wondered if the main representation afforded to people like me in fantasy literature is that of Tolkien's dwarves or Rowling's goblins: gold-loving, underground-dwelling, funny-name-having outsiders. Spelled out so explicitly, of course the antisemitic stereotypes are repugnantly obvious. But where is the reparative work, the reimagining of such tropes? What Schanoes does so adeptly in many of her stories is utilize Jewish folklore and worldview (not that this is a monolithic category) to inform her fantastic mode. Her characters know the stereotypes and stigmas leveled against them by the majority population and do their best to operate with agency regardless; for example, when Itte in "Among the Thorns" seeks vengeance for her father's death, she knows that taking [End Page 118] the murderer's baby daughter with...


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pp. 117-119
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