Horse, Flower, Bird

( 1 )


"Each of these spare and elegant tales rings like a bell in your head. memorable, original, and not much like anything you've read."—Karen Joy Fowler

“A strange and enchanting book, written in crisp, winning sentences; each story begs to be read aloud and savored.”—Aimee Bender

"Horse, Flower, Bird rests uneasily between the intersection of fantasy and reality, dreaming and wakefulness, and the sacred and profane. Like a series of beautiful but troubling dreams, this book will linger long in the memory. Kate ...

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"Each of these spare and elegant tales rings like a bell in your head. memorable, original, and not much like anything you've read."—Karen Joy Fowler

“A strange and enchanting book, written in crisp, winning sentences; each story begs to be read aloud and savored.”—Aimee Bender

"Horse, Flower, Bird rests uneasily between the intersection of fantasy and reality, dreaming and wakefulness, and the sacred and profane. Like a series of beautiful but troubling dreams, this book will linger long in the memory. Kate Bernheimer is reinventing the fairy tale."—Peter Buck, R.E.M.

In Kate Bernheimer's familiar and spare—yet wondrous—world, an exotic dancer builds her own cage, a wife tends a secret basement menagerie, a fishmonger's daughter befriends a tulip bulb, and sisters explore cycles of love and violence by reenacting scenes from Star Wars.

Enthralling, subtle, and poetic, this collection takes readers back to the age-old pleasures of classic fairy tales and makes them new. Their haunting lessons are an evocative reminder that cracking open the door to the imagination is no mere child's play, that delight and tragedy lurk in every corner, and that we all "have the key to the library . . . only be careful what you read."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Deep-seated fears find their way into these eight brief, dark adult fairy tales by Bernheimer (The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum). In "A Doll's Tale," a sad child named Astrid loves a life-size doll to distraction, even though it is "haughty and mean." When the doll is lost, then replaced by an imaginary friend who runs away, Astrid eventually becomes more doll-like than either of her companions. Another woman conspires, in "A Petting Zoo Tale," to keep a small menagerie in her basement, unbeknownst to her distracted lawyer husband. And what to make of the wounded and delirious protagonist of "Whitework"? Taking refuge in a remote cottage, she becomes obsessed with the intricate designs of the white-on-white embroidery she finds there. These stories are the product of a vivid imagination and crafty manipulation by their skillful creator. Pity there are not more drawings by Ducornet. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This is a collection of eight imaginative if not downright unusual tales that will delight readers but also evoke sadness and loneliness. Bernheimer's lean and lyrical writing conceals forceful and spirited stories that will definitely prove disturbing, as in the collection's last, dreamlike tale, "Whitework." Other stories, like the penultimate "A Star Wars Tale," will bring back strong memories of childhood as they communicate an innocent understanding of the world that is simultaneously beautiful and perhaps brutal. Bernheimer's passion for fairy tales is evident in every story she spins, which should come as no surprise—she is founder and editor of Fairy Tale Review, and her previous works (e.g., The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold) draw heavily on classic fairy tales from many countries to create wonderfully original new ones. VERDICT Bernheimer's work provides a refreshing contrast to most available fiction. It is no stretch to compare her to Aimee Bender or Kelly Link, and fans ought to be on the lookout for My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, a forthcoming collection that she edited featuring those two authors.—Faye A. Chadwell, Oregon State Univ. Libs., Corvallis
Kirkus Reviews

A collection of quirky, twisted fairy tales for adults touching on loneliness, alienation and male domination; among the author's previous projects is the children's book The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum (2008).

Streaked with absurdism, Bernheimer's odd little tales are told from the perspective of girls and young women who strive to rise above their unhappy circumstances through elaborate schemes. A 17-year-old living alone with her bird-hating mother conducts bedroom experiments with her parakeet, gets a job dancing topless in a suspended cage and moves into an apartment where she pursues "friendships that paid" in one room and builds the cage of her dreams for herself in another. A young wife keeps a menagerie in her basement, including a goat and a miniature pony, convincing herself that her indifferent husband might suspect something unusual is going on. A lame girl finds herself bedridden in a miniature cottage straight out of an old German folktale, where she is cared for by her faceless companion, cheered by a candle in the shape of a bluebird and transfixed by a portrait of a mysterious young girl. Unlike classic fairy tales, these are largely free of punishment and moral consequences, even as they allude to such dark subjects as rape, misogyny and the Holocaust. Bernheimer cites Peanuts as one of her influences, andthis collectiondoes have a certain comic-book sensibility. In these stories, childhood merges with adulthood, the former being no less difficult to understand than the latter. Except for an out-of-sync tale of sisters exploring themes of love and violence by acting out scenes from Star Wars,the stories are of a piece.

Eight strange, quietly unhinged narratives by an author who reinvents the fairy tale with her postmodern approach.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566892476
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,485,255
  • Product dimensions: 7.74 (w) x 11.04 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Kate Bernheimer is the author of two novels and the children’s book The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. She is also the editor of the literary journal Fairy Tale Review, and three anthologies, including My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (forthcoming from Penguin in 2010). An Associate Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette each spring, she spends the rest of the year in Tucson, Arizona.

An artist and fiction writer, Rikki Ducornet has illustrated books by Robert Coover, Jorge Luis Borges, Forrest Gander, and Joanna Howard. Her paintings have been exhibited widely, including, most recently, at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Salvador Allende Museum in Santiago, Chile.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fairy tales for grownups

    The Brothers Grimm cornered the market on fairy tales, and the original versions of them were often dark...far more frightening than the sanitized versions found in modern children's books. This collection of short stories by Kate Bernheimer entitled Horse, Flower, Bird is a dark collection of tales as well...not suitable for children, because under the seemingly simple stories lies a violent understory. The combination is disconcerting, and makes you wonder how the elements of fear and innocence could be combined so artfully.

    I can't think of any short stories that are like this...the images create an almost instantaneous shot of pain, like a paper cut, when you grasp the author's meaning. For example, in "A Cuckoo Tale", a little girl speaks innocently of her feelings of guilt and anxiety (she didn't call it that) in a religious sense, so different from her Catholic friend. "There was no talk of heaven or hell in the girl's household. It was all about pogroms and rape." While she tries to live a child's life, visions of Jews herded into ovens fill her too-young imagination. She wonders why no one helped Anne Frank, who she calls "the girl who kept the diary."

    In "A Doll's Tale", a little girl receives a beautiful doll as a gift...a doll far prettier than she. She didn't like it, and so "confused by this feeling-for Astrid was a kind and gentle being-her ambivalence became a kind of devotion." Her true feelings are revealed when she dumps it down a laundry chute. However, the loss of it soon leaves her lonely, and she invents an invisible-friend. There's no joy there, as the 'friend' suddenly disappears. A painfully memorable picture is created when her and her father drive around, looking for the beloved invisible friend:

    "This second loss proved too much for her, really. Doll-less, invisible friend-less, finally more comfortable in fear than in gladness, Astrid began to live in her head...To outsiders, this...lent her a remarkably pleasing air, since she never had reason to interrupt anyone's talking."


    Kate Bernheimer
    ? Even what promises to be an amusing story of little girls playing Jedi's from Star Wars takes a darker turn, when their imagination, fed by the careless conversations of adults, suddenly creates a world far more violent and ugly than the movie.

    The stories, while diverse and mysterious, all contain a theme of the loss of innocence. And the source of such loss seems to be the a child's view of the world where an active imagination and lack of experience create troubling and sometimes dangerous visions. Sometimes the simplest words can create a landscape of horror.

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