#995 Fairy tales for modern minds
The Swan Suit
by Katherine Fawcett
Madeira Park: Douglas & McIntyre, 2020
$22.95 / 9781771622608
Reviewed by Candace Fertile
Katherine Fawcett’s second collection of stories is a must read for anyone who likes deliriously imaginative, hilarious, and twisted fairy/fantasy stories that skewer contemporary culture. This was a book I often had to put down because I was laughing so much. Other times I had to stop because I was thinking, “She actually wrote that!?”
The fourteen stories sometimes feature witches (with attendant cats, of course), and the witches are sneaky, malicious creatures who play tricks on humans and on their own offspring. And on their cats. Fawcett masters surprise, not only in her plots but also in her language, and the fun comes from both. The title story kicks off the collection, and it’s a twisted tale of a young fisherman who sees a woman swimming naked in a lake. When she gets out, she puts on a swan suit and flies away. The man goes home and tells his mother he is in love and wants to marry the woman: “With this nymph — this goddess — as my bride, I shall be the envy of all the men in town. Who else could claim their wife has the grace of a swan, the face of an angel and the body of a Victoria’s Secret model?” Fawcett manages to blend the old and the new with great results.
Love or perhaps lust is at the heart of the second story, “The Devil and Miss Nora.” Miss Nora works at Li’l Sprouts Daycare Centre, and the devil (called Stan) comes by to steal a child’s soul, in part to demonstrate to the “Demons of Hell” that it was possible to get past overprotective parents. “But, no. This generation of demons expects everything to be handed to them on a silver platter, thought the Devil. So damn entitled.” The Devil makes the mistake of thinking that his task “was going to be as easy as a negotiating a deal with an intermediate-level guitar player.” But the unassuming Miss Nora is a formidable opponent.
In “The Pull of Old Rat Creek,” Margery Perkins sustains a concussion in a fall, an injury that is exacerbated by curious electromagnetic fluctuations concentrated where she is. She’s found by a guy named “Tybalt Shapiro (thirty-three, percussionist for local band Satan’s Ballsack).” He isn’t important but the description of him shows how Fawcett constantly flings in humour. Margery becomes a human magnet. The story is told in a series of reports, emails, texts, voicemails, and whiteboard memos. Old Rat Creek becomes a tourist destination, complete with the typical tourist traps such as fudge shops, soap shops, and maple syrup shops, as people flock to see the huge metal pile stuck to Margery.
“Ham” is a deliciously funny (sorry) reworking of The Three Little Pigs. Ham works hard to build an empire of food based on wolves as his two brothers, Hock and Weiner, are too lazy for him to hire. Like other stories, the setting is an echo of BC. For example, “Ham headhunted talent from Happy Planet.” His products are initially sold in health food stores, but the market expands quickly, and Chinny-Chin-Chin Organics moves to a larger facility in Richmond. Ham buys a mansion in West Vancouver, and it gets featured in Western Living. If anyone can read these stories without laughing out loud, a sense of humour needs to be surgically implanted.
But it’s not just humour that makes these stories so delectable. Fawcett has a firm grasp on contemporary culture and economics and social media. When a woman finds a teeny wolf tooth in her food, Ham’s empire starts to crash as people criticize the company for using wolf pups. The irony and hypocrisy are familiar.
One of the most fascinating stories is “East O.” That’s short for East Ovary, and the narrator is an egg who tells the story of a woman’s life. East Ovary often communicates with Blood (and is a bit jealous as Blood gets to move through the whole body) and West Ovary. The tone of this story is like that of the others: snappy and straightforward. As the egg says, “About a thousand of us called it quits every day. Pulled the plug. Kicked the lady-bucket. The rest couldn’t agree whether to call it suicide, bad luck or simply a lack of ambition.” Some of the eggs get named, names such as Lucille Ball and Marilyn that reflect their personalities.
The Swan Suit is clever and creative. It’s one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a long while, and the entertainment packs an emotional and intellectual punch. Do yourself a favour, and get your hands on it.
Candace Fertile has a PhD in English literature from the University of Alberta. She teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria, writes book reviews for several Canadian publications, and is on the editorial board of Room Magazine. She has reviewed books by Marjorie Celona, Garry Thomas Morse, Nazanine Hozar, Tiziana La Melia, Rita Wong & Fred Wah, Carla Funk, and Jen Currin for The Ormsby Review.
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