This version of Sleeping Beauty is wide awake and knows what to do with this spindle
By Jessica P. Wick | NPR
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
In Alix Harrow’s books, women move between worlds, sometimes because they find enchanted doors (The ten thousand gates of January), sometimes because they rediscover and revive ancient magic (Ancient and Future Witches), and sometimes because their own story echoes an archetypal story – and they want more of fate.
In A exploded rocket, this archetypal story is “Sleeping Beauty”, and protagonist Zinnia Gray has been drawn to it since her childhood. So much so that she received her high school diploma and a degree in folk studies from Ohio University, all before she was 21. But unlike Sleeping Beauty, Zinnia “doesn’t suffer so much from a curse as from malfeasance teratogenic damage.” There was an industrial accident and no one was born with what the book calls generalized Roseville disease reaching 22 years old. strange headspace.
Zinnia stabs her finger on the spindle and sees a vision of many girls, different girls, all seeking the inevitability of this spindle. She tells them to stop, and when a girl does, saying “Help,” she pulls Zinnia from Ohio to the fairy tale kingdom of Primrose. Primrose is a magnificent storybook princess par excellence whose tale seems ready to match most of the rhythms we associate with the tale: castle, roses, evil fairy, enchanted sleep.
Together, they attempt to save Primrose from her curse and bring Zinnia back to her world (with a little help from Charm, who Zinnia can always reach by cell phone). Of course, where magic is possible, Zinnia begins to hope that there may be a solution to her own “curse.”
It’s a slender novel but it tells a strong and compelling story. It’s funny, sharp, weird, and deeply loves its source material. Someday I would love to sit down with Harrow and discuss the history, the tale, the myth. I don’t think I would be surprised to learn that her heart is actually a portal to the Cradle of Myth, and her blood tells stories, and she swims in the Fairy Fountain every Friday, which delights her fingers for that we can have these gripping stories where history is so often what saves us. These stories do not shy away from ugliness. They do not reduce the difficulties. The choices people make matter deeply, even when that person seems trapped in a story. For a book on magical curses and world leaps, there is a lot of harsh scientific discussion; it is one of A exploded rocket, because the enchantment echoes modern science and helps ground Zinnia’s adventure in our reality.
Harrow’s writing is always lyrical, but Zinnia’s pragmatic vinegar, her insight, her humor, and her sense of herself as someone somewhat separated from the world – since she has always had one foot out – in make a memorable protagonist and a poignant story. Her voice is so easy to want more; his sense of genre is great fun and never crosses the line by irritating, just as tropes never become twee or burp. I want more of Zinnia. More Charm, Zinnia’s stubborn and badass lesbian friend. Plus Primrose, which sometimes surprises Zinnia and the reader. There’s a point at the start of the story where Zinnia acknowledges the “exhaustion of being impossible to save” in Primrose and, reader, my heart. There are so many little details and beautiful turns of phrase that bring the worlds to life inside this excellent fantasy portal. Another: “The idea sprang from my fully formed, armored and Athenian skull and deeply stupid. I love it.” Me too, Zinnia!
A exploded rocket is unabashedly self-aware, but he’s also genuinely romantic. It’s easy read, over too early. The print I have contains illustrations of Arthur Rackham’s silhouettes scattered around and incorporated into the work, and I can only imagine how beautiful it will look in the finished print. “Sleeping Beauty” has always been my favorite fairy tale, and Alix Harrow’s treatment is a worthy addition to the body of work inspired by it. This news is opposed to the desperation of inevitability; he dares us to believe in sympathetic magic; it tells us that we are connected through history. It might break your heart a bit, but it’s a lot of fun.
Jessica P. Wick is a California native and freelance writer, editor, currently living in Rhode Island.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of information through you. As a non-profit organization, donations from people like you support journalism that allows us to uncover stories that are important to our audiences. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.