Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reading in 2015: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Unsurprisingly, I deviated from the reading list pretty much immediately thanks to the intriguing cover of Helen Oyeyemi's novel Boy, Snow, Bird.

Intrigued by references to the classic tale of Snow White (mirrors, wicked stepmothers) and drawn in sufficiently by the jacket synopsis, I picked up the novel at the library Friday and finished it just this afternoon. Oyeyemi develops very distinct voices for Boy and Bird, who narrate sections by turn, but Snow remains rather an enigma, known only through her few letters to Bird and through others' (mainly Boy's) observations of her. Perhaps this is purposeful, but as a reader, I wanted to know more about Snow, as much as I wanted to know Boy and Bird.

Unfortunately, loose ends abound, from the mystery of the mirrors to the man who raised Boy. The novel meanders through the workaday events of the characters' lives, making a dramatic reveal right toward the end but then just . . . stopping. I arrived at the end of the novel without any real grasp of what had happened, and maybe that's more a reflection of me as a reader than of the novel itself, but I wanted more.

The exploration of race weaves through the narrative, jumping now to the forefront but then receding in favor of other topics, as happens in reality as well, I suppose. Why, though, place such emphasis on the racial tension faced by the book's central characters only to abandon it for a last-minute, shoddily told conflict involving Boy's father and having nothing to do with race but yes, still involving mirrors and the truths and lies they tell us?

All in all, the novel had great promise but failed to deliver. However, Oyeyemi uses great skill in speaking through distinct character voices with well-paced style. I will likely read another of her books. I've heard good things about Mr. Fox, and I think the library has a copy. For now, a diversion in the form of Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market."

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