Rotten Relations, edited by Denise Little (DAW, 2004)

Just in time for the holidays, we have this lovely anthology, which puts the matter of family into a whole new perspective. Think you might have trouble with your drunken Uncle Gary, who retells the same old stories every year? He can’t stack up to Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, who murdered his brother and married his brother’s wife … or so the story claims. How about that mother your dad married, who tries too hard to be your friend? She’s nothing compared to Cinderella’s stepmother … or is she? Fifteen stories in all retell some very famous fairy tales, fictional accounts, and fables from the viewpoint of the previously-maligned.
In Pauline J. Alama’s “Home for the Holidays,” a father and son attempt to find common ground, amidst the father’s workaholic schedule and the son’s teenage rebellion. The twist here is that the father is Santa Claus, who’s taken on more work than he really needs over the centuries, and quality time with the family has suffered as a result. A clever story, it updates the Santa myth with some modern sensibilities to fit in with the 21st century. “With A Face Only A Mother Could Love,” by Jenn Reese, revisits Grendel from the viewpoint of the monster and his mother, likewise turning it into a tale about an estranged father and son. In “Switched,” Nina Kiriki Hoffman, always good for an introspective, quietly magical story, retells Cinderella, though she turns the tables on both protagonist and “wicked” stepsister. “The Trick of the Tricksters Tricked,” by Josepha Sherman, is a retelling of a classic Coyote story in which the chaotic trickster god runs afoul of a spider trickster and his wife, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in a war of pranks.
Bill McCoy turns Sleeping Beauty into a political satire/courtroom comedy with “Dynasty,” a quick story with some very familiar faces to be found. Meanwhile, Cinderella gets a makeover from the viewpoint of the stepmother, in Bradley and Susan Sinor’s “Serpent’s Tooth.” The third and last exploration of the Cinderella story comes in “After the Ball,” by Pamela Luzier, in which the wicked stepmother and her worthless daughters try one last time to get what they think they deserve out of Cinderella’s happy circumstances, and end up in an entirely different predicament by the end. Devon Monk’s “Peggy Plain” is a highly imaginative look at some old nursery rhymes, set in a magical place called Las Fables, where anything goes and everyone’s looking for an angle, or a rhyme.
For a look between the pages of a classic novel, turn to David Bischoff’s “Heathcliff’s Notes,” a metatextual adventure written from the viewpoint of the champion brooder himself and former star of Wuthering Heights. P.N. Elrod attempts to exonerate Claudius and prove who really killed the King of Denmark, in “King of Shreds and Patches,” and the answer may not be who you think it is.
As with any themed anthology, there’s a wide mix of stories to choose from. Happily, I’d have to say that in general, the stories in Rotten Relations do a great job of finding new things to say about their source materials and inspiration. It’s definitely worth picking up, especially if you’ve enjoyed previous DAW offerings like Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City, or The Magic Shop.

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