The Five Gifts7:30 AM
Two days ago I wrote about the life and times of my short story woes. In my experience, the cripple of fiction, whether written by ambitious thirteen-year-olds or aspiring thirty-year-olds, is wordiness and poor plot. And while that will only cripple a good 20,000+ word novel, it will kill a short story.
Thinking of that, I thought of Rachel Devin and her short story work. When Rachel asked me to review one of her free downloads, I hesitated. Too many readings of online short stories with bad grammar, boring plots, jolting prose and all in all, a waste of ten minutes had lessened my approval of self-published authors.
Devin proved me wrong. More precisely, "The Five Gifts" proved me wrong. I grew up listening to my sister tell twists of Grimms' fairy tales (and the made-up foibles of Western bachelorettes who meet their husbands-to-be over an embarrassing plate of lobster). My expectation and demand for attempted fairy tales was high. Even the second half of Grimms became re-hashed tellings of the first half's stories, albeit a little worn out and unimaginative.
There's a funny idea running around that fairy tales are easy to write -- pick a moral, wrap some snazzy fictional packaging around it, slap on the label fairy tale and voila! instant literary success. But in my personal experience, there's much balance that goes into fairy tales -- they cannot be too crazy or the enjoyability level dips; there has to be familiarity without losing innovation; they have to fit in while standing out.
Perhaps Devin agrees with me; perhaps not. If not, she must have the rules of good fiction and fairy tales written in her genes, because "The Five Gifts," in my humble opinion, ought to be included among the greatest of classic fairy stories. She understands the importance of words: each one seems to have a place in the story, making it unnecessary to skip around the text in order to access the story. She understands the importance of plot: a beautiful peasant girl turns down five princes and keeps the fairy gifts they give her, using them only for her good and refusing to help her fellow man. Perhaps it is not wholly original (no good fairy stories are) but it is unique enough to draw the reader along to the very end. She understands the importance of storytelling: there is no attempt to modernize the fairy tale, to impregnate it with foreign objects or modern-day notions or to somehow "psychologize" the main character. She simply tells the story with lyrical balance that carries, like legato, from Once upon a time to The End. Her work is beautiful, simple and memorable. Devin has mastered the fairy tale.
While she asked me only to review one of her works fully, I must put in a good word for the other short stories I accessed by free download. She tackles swept-under-the-rug notions in both "Her Father" and "The Tale of Timothy Minnow" -- ideas central to dutiful daughterhood and godly wifehood. Again, her prose is uncluttered and accessible and her plot the central tug to finish the story (though she does mean for "the moral of the story" to be the heart of it).
Aspiring young authors -- Devin is a wonderful role model and well worth at least a perusal of one of her stories. ("The Five Gifts" and "Her Father" are my top choices.) It's been awhile since I enjoyed some unpretentious, well-written short stories, and Devin was an excellent provider. Keep writing, Miss Devin.