Funny how a gun can speak your pain so clear.
Catherynne M. Valente has carved out a niche by re-envisioning classic fairy tales in alternate settings; as you’d expect from its title, Six-Gun Snow White falls into that niche, recasting Snow White into the wild west. It starts when her father, the mining-industrial magnate Mr. H, falls for a Crow woman named Gun That Sings, pursuing her into a forced marraige. The poor woman dies, but leaves him a daughter; when he remarries, his wicked second wife names the girl “Snow White”—a cruel mockery, as Snow can aspire to white socialite society but will never be white as snow. But Snow has acquired her birth mother’s marksmanship skills, and escapes her gilded cage to find her own place in the world. Pursued by a compassionless Pinkerton gunslinger with orders to bring back her heart, Snow criss-crosses a weird and evocative west.
The one complaint I’ve heard, time and time again, about Catherynne M. Valente is that her writing is beautiful but vacant—and there’s a grain of truth to this; quite often, the telling of the tale becomes more important than the tale itself, even through the (rather abrupt and postmodern) ending. Things like plot and character development can become secondary priorities, though there’s a whole heap of world-building that comes across through style and tone alone. To be honest, if the writing, tone, and imagination is this good in everything else she writes, you’ve sold me. This is weaponized prose, an intoxicating blend of folksy charm and staccato-fast writing that demands your attention. Valente loads the novel with the most precise language, laces it with metaphor, and her aim is dead true, hitting bullseye on every page. It is, in fact, a delight, and that’s before you get to killer lines like “All that separates a man from a dog is fingers” or “You can’t kiss a girl into anything.”
Part of what makes the story refreshing and modern isn’t just from changing the scenery to a fantastic old west that never was—though that didn’t hurt a lick. It’s how the story’s been modernized to include topics like abuse and race, and recasting the fairytale in a postcolonial light is a wonderful fit for the western theme. Snow has gone from a naïve innocent to a righteous angry woman, all torn-up and lost inside and more than capable of kicking the ass of any man who cops a feel. She’s a complex character burdened by abuse and race issues: too white to fit in with her mother’s people, and unable to live up to the ideal of white perfection her stepmother ironically dubbed her. Needless to say, despite the cover and fairytale theme, this isn’t a children’s book… it’s a gritty and dark story very much for adults, unless you like your kids reading feminist/postcolonial fantasy lit that peppers the prose with “fuck” and shit.
Six-Gun Snow White is a stylish retelling of the popular fairytale in vivid strokes. You may think you know the story of Snow White, but Valente’s version takes the original story arc and reworks it into a fresh, modern retelling full of wit and verve. It’s an ambitious novella, but it manages to complete its vision in a hundred-fifty pages, not overstaying its welcome and not leaving too much unsaid. Cat Valente has penned a gritty but entertaining novella, packed with stunning language and awash in metaphor. If you love writing as lush and wild as the Dakota prairie, and don’t mind a few places left ambiguous and barren, pick up a copy and enjoy.
Title: Six-Gun Snow White
Editor: Catherynne M. Valente
First Published Date: 2013
What I Read: ebook (Saga Press, 2015)
Price I Paid: $2.99 (Kindle sale)
MSRP: $14.98 pb / $7.99 ebook
ISBN/ASIN: 978-1481444736 / B00TBKUW6C