My new novel The Story Sisters is about the power of stories and the complications of family connections and family mythologies. At the start of each chapter there are pieces of The Black Book of Fairy Tales, a set of stories Elv Story tells to her sisters, Claire and Meg, as a way of giving voice to a truth she feels she must never tell. When read together, these stories add up to become the map of Elv’s soul.
Long before the recent scandals of non-fiction books – the ones that turned out to be fiction after publication -- I was always suspicious of “true stories”. Emotional truth, I’ve always felt, is more easily found in fiction, no matter how disguised it may be. I began to feel this as a child, reading fairy tales. I felt that they spoke to the heart. Those step-mothers and wolves and lost girls were characters I could spot in the real world. Such creatures were on the corner, in the kitchen, down the street, in the mirror.
The chapter openers of The Story Sisters are filled with clues about Elv’s own experience, fears, and desires. She is the eldest of the sisters, the most beautiful and most damaged. In every fairy tale there is always the sister who sees what the others do not. But when it comes down to it, doesn’t the vision depend on which sister is telling the story? At its heart, the novel is about the ways in which stories can save and change our lives, and help us survive in the world. Hopefully, they also help us find our truest selves.
Here is the first of Elv’s fairy tales. You can hear others at www.alicehoffman.com. All the rest can be found in The Story Sisters.
Once a year there was a knock at the door. Two times, then nothing. No one else heard, only me. Even when I was a baby in my cradle. My mother didn’t hear. My father didn’t hear. My sisters didn’t hear. But the cat looked up.
When I was eleven I opened the door. There she was. A lady wearing a gray coat. She spoke, but I didn’t know her language. A big wind had come up and the door slammed shut. When I opened it again, she was gone.
But I knew what she wanted.
The one word I’d understood was daughter.
I asked my mother to tell me about the day I was born. She couldn’t remember. I asked my father. He had no idea. My sisters were too young to understand. When the gray lady next came I asked the same question. I could tell from the look on her face. She knew the answer. She went down to the marsh, where the tall reeds grew, where the river began. I ran to keep up. She slipped into the water, all gray. She waited for me to follow. I didn’t think twice. I took off my boots. The water was cold.
I went under fast.
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