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Horse, Flower, Bird Paperback – August 24, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In eight hauntingly poetic fairy tales, Bernheimer roots deep into the hyperimagination and fears of lonely girls and the estranged women they become. When a little girl’s pet parakeet dies, she runs away from home and later becomes an exotic dancer who builds her own cage. Two sisters perform imaginary scenarios from Star Wars in which love never triumphs. A girl abandons her sister’s friendship for that of a doll, and later for an imaginary friend whose disappearance leaves her psychotic. A young Jewish girl suffers from guilt and a fear of incineration after her friends and family fail to comprehend her intense desire for atonement. And in the collection’s most heartrending story, a woman hides a petting zoo in her basement, convinced that her secret is preserving her overworked husband’s stability. By turns lovely and tragic, Bernheimer’s spare but captivating fables of femininity resonate like a string of sad but all-too-real and meaningful dreams. This is a collection readers won’t soon forget, one that redefines the fairy tale into something wholly original. --Jonathan Fullmer

Review

"Hauntingly poetic . . . By turns lovely and tragic, Bernheimer's spare but captivating fables of femininity resonate like a string of sad but all-too-real and meaningful dreams. This is a collection readers won't soon forget, one that redefines the fairy tale into something wholly original."—Booklist

"[Bernheimer's] strangely moving stories, such as the eight collected in Horse, Flower, Bird, combine fantasy with deep wisdom; the illustrations by Rikki Ducornet are an added delight."Reader's Digest

"Deep-seated fears find their way into these eight brief, dark adult fairy tales . . . These stories are the product of a vivid imagination and crafty manipulation by their skillful creator."—Publishers Weekly

“Imaginative . . . lean and lyrical writing . . . Bernheimer’s passion for fairy tales is evident in every story she spins . . . [her] work provides a refreshing contrast to most available fiction. It is no stretch to compare her to Aimee Bender or Kelly Link.”—Library Journal

“Quirky, twisted . . . quietly unhinged narratives by an author who reinvents the fairy tale.”—Kirkus

“This is a delightful collection of strange tales. . . . The stories are also accompanied by anthropomorphic illustrations by Rikki Ducornet, which are wonderfully befitting of the tales. This made for a quick read, as once I was pulled into the worlds of these stories, I did not want to stop reading until I found out where Bernheimer was taking me.”—NewPages

"[H]orse, Flower, Bird possesses everything you want to find in remarkable, enchanting, and lasting fairy tales–the delightful, imaginative kind of stories you want to tell in front of fires, or on the phone late at night under the covers, the stories you know you will never tell as well as the original author, the ones about phobias and cages and learning to love cages, but you know you have to try and retell them anyway."–Puerto Del Sol


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 185 pages
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566892473
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566892476
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,075,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Bernheimer has been called "one of the living masters of the fairy tale." She is the author of a novel trilogy and the story collections Horse, Flower, Bird and How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales, among other books. She also has edited four anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award winning and bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales and xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
What makes Bernheimer's short 'Horse, Flower, Bird' so extraordinary is its ability to pack so much into so little prose. Her fairy tales are like poetry, and as is usual with fairy tales, they pack a wicked punch.

Fairy tales are written to convey a moral, though in this case there are also themes geared specifically toward women, including: isolation, entrapment (mostly self), selective mutism, and a difference about these women that sets them apart from "normal" society.

The color pink also recurs. There is the pink lining of a box a tiny girl is kept in by another girl (again, the entrapment and isolation), a woman who paints her walls pink, a pink floral tea cup set and also a pink dress. Pink is a color automatically associated with the feminine, one I think of as a confection, a sweet indulgence. What Bernheimer has in mind I'm not really sure.

The stories all feature, beneath the seemingly tranquil surface, sadness and a sense of the lack of power of the female characters. Men do appear, but are associated with loss and heartache. None of the stories really end on a happy note, and leave the reader feeling vaguely disconcerted.

I've struggled with Bernheimer's message, though she seems to be saying women who are different in some way are marginalized, often separating themselves and choosing to be mute. Her tales come off with a feminist bent, exploring themes of pain and loss.

In one of my favorite tales a young woman who owns a caged bird her mother fears so much she can only let it out when her mother isn't home. When the mother isn't home the young woman lets the bird out, to fly around her room, until the bird's tragic death while trying to escape out into the world.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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I love this book. There are so many ideas, so many things hinted at, or glimpsed, between the lines of the stories...I know I will have to reread it very soon. The stories are modern but timeless, strange but somehow familiar. The author has packed so much into this slim and sparse collection, so much that it would take hundreds of pages to even attempt to "analyze" the tales. But I wouldn't recommend that. Too many words can kill reality, or worse, break an enchantment. Horse, Flower, Bird is a lucid dream...I hope it will be a recurring one.
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