What’s it all about?:
This is the story of a fairy tale character, Rumpelstiltskin with a bit of a difference – there is only half of him.
What did I think?:
I was quite excited when I read the title of the fourth story in Kevin Brockmeier’s collection. I’m a bit of a fan of fairy tale re-imaginings and was curious to discover what spin the author had put on this one. In the original fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin has a bit of a talent for spinning straw into gold. His gift comes in handy when a miller’s daughter is locked in a cell and ordered to spin straw into gold for the King of this particular land. The girl begs Rumpelstiltskin to help her and she hands over material goods like a necklace, ring etc each day until she has nothing else to give. The King then tells her that he will marry her if she will spin some more straw into gold and she pleads for the imp’s help one more time. He agrees if she will give him her first-born child. Of course, when she becomes Queen she does not want to give up her baby when Rumpelstiltskin comes to collect it and he says that he will not take the child if the Queen can guess his name within three days. The Queen does manage to guess his name after some sneaky spying and an enraged Rumpelstiltskin “in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.”
In this short story, we see a day in the life of “half” of Rumpelstiltskin due to the fact that he has torn himself in two. He seems to have some order to his life that also feels monotonous and quite sad. He is described as looking like “a banana with feet at both ends,” and gets around either by hopping or arching his body moving palm to toe. While he washes, we are treated to the full grisly detail of him squeezing the water from various organs and ligaments which are exposed (by the way did you realise that he is the only man he knows where the forearm is a hard-to-reach place?) then heads off to work for three hours as a replacement for damaged mannequins in a shop window. The sky, as in the other stories in this collection so far, plays a big part as Rumpelstiltskin gazes and ponders on it. The most fascinating part of the story for me was the letter from “the other half” of the imp where certain words are missed out but the reader can guess at what word should be in the empty space. It was such an ingenious device of the author and so well thought out that I couldn’t help but be impressed but I think you have to read it yourself to get an idea of what I’m talking about!
In the afternoon, Rumpelstiltskin gives a speech to a woman’s organisation on The Birthrights of First-Born Children “a topic in which he claims no small degree of expertise.” I absolutely loved this section of the story. Not only does the author make fun of the original fairy-tale, poor Rumpelstiltskin has to defend himself against a barrage of women getting their fairy-tales slightly muddled. No, he’s not The Big Bad Wolf. The author mixes his humour with quite a bit of sadness and by the end of the story, which was so poignant, I felt quite sorry for poor Rumpelstiltskin as he muses on life as half a person and wonders what his other half is doing. Again from Kevin Brockmeier, we have an absolutely fantastic piece of writing that is imaginative, touching and leaves you thinking about it long after the story ends. In short, I loved it!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Looking Up Vagina by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You