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Fairy Prince and Other Stories

August 31, 2008

I hadn’t really meant to read another Eleanor Hallowell Abbott book just yet, but I was looking at Project Gutenberg’s list of this week’s updates, and the first item on the list was Fairy Prince and Other Stories. Short stories are nice because they require such a small commitment, and I thought I would read one or two in order to take a break from Peter and Jane, but then, of course, I ended up reading the whole thing.

The title is somewhat misleading, because all the short stories are about the same family ( Mother: has brown eyes; Father: likes tulips; Rosalee, 17: is pretty; Carol, male, 11: is dumb — literally; Ruthy, 9: is a terrible narrator) and take place in chronological order.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the style reminds me more of The Indiscreet Letter, which I kind of love, than anything else of Abbott’s. On the other hand, Ruthy’s narration is completely infuriating. Mostly because she doesn’t seem to be very well acquainted with the comma:

The crow never looked jolly. I have heard of white crows. But Carol’s crow was a very dark black. Wherever you put him he looked like a sorrow. He sat on the arm of Rosalee’s chair and nibbled at her pink sleeve. Young Derry Willard pushed him away. Young Derry Willard and Rosalee tried to whisper. I heard them.

After a while all the independent clauses begin to drive you insane.

There are some nice bits, and one of the stories, “The Gift of the Probable Places,” has a larger concentration of them than the others, although I may just feel that way because it’s almost a detective story. Or because it starts out that way — “Old Man Smith” has a gift for finding things, and by asking a few questions he’s able to tell people where to look for things that they’ve lost — and then it turns into something completely different. Ruthy and Carol hear people say that a young woman named Annie Halliway has lost her mind, so they take her to Old Man Smith to see if he can find it. And he does, of course, and it’s sort of sweet.

Abbott’s stories are always sort of sweet, but unfortunately, they often balance that out with a healthy dose of annoying. I also think that there’s a fair amount of condescension in Abbott’s Ruthy-voice. So, while there are good things in every story, the infuriating things tend to overwhelm them, and I can’t really recommend the book as a whole.

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