By Helen Oyeyemi
Riverhead, $27.95, 308 pages
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is not a straight forward retelling of Snow White, but a meditation on identity. The book opens with Boy Novak, who later becomes the “evil stepmother,” saying, “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s.” This sets up the unifying theme of the novel, how we are not fixed beings but a combination of what other people project onto us and how we choose to see ourselves. Race, gender, ethnicity, profession, status, beauty and other markers of identity are dependent on perception in Boy, Snow, Bird.
“We’re friendly toward strangers because of a general belief (I don’t know where it comes from) that we’re born strangers and the memory of how that feels never really leaves us.”
The structure is dreamlike, a stone skipping water; it’s still the same just-shy-of-luscious pond, but, suddenly, jarringly, rippling elsewhere and then elsewhere again without taking a moment to sink into the depths and abandoning interesting digressions before fully realized.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins