“The women gather in the YMCA basement rec room: hard linoleum floors, half-windows along one wall, view of sidewalk and brick. It’s a Friday, just after six, and above them the city of New York bustles. Up there, people are teeming out of subway stations and into the hot sun, rushing toward tourist traps, toward restaurants, toward parties and friends.
“Whatever people do on a Friday, the women in the basement are not doing it.”
– Opening of How to Be Eaten
How to Be Eaten tells the stories of a variety of fairytale characters from their perspectives, modernized and with some twists. Each one of them is suffering from the trauma of what they’ve experienced as well as from the unwanted media attention. One thing all these women have in common is that their stories are being told for them–and they’re being told very badly. From victim blaming to sexist assumptions, the worst of society is on display, and the reader is left wondering if these characters will ever be able to find peace.
I sometimes get bored with twisted fairytale plotlines because you can anticipate what’s going to happen, but the clever thing about this book is that it starts with all the characters having already been through the experiences you would know them for, which creates a totally different plot. Combined with the modernization, the inclusion of a character who isn’t from a classic fairytale at all, and the fact that some of the women have names that leave you guessing about the story they’re from all help add to add surprises also. I particularly enjoyed the role reality television plays in the story, as that really added something fresh and hammered home the fact that the problematic stories our culture is telling are not all passed down from the distant past.
Certainly, this book makes no secret about being feminist, so you’re more likely to enjoy it if you enjoy reading the type of book that makes you think about these sorts of topics. You might also enjoy it if you like a book that has a larger cast. In this book, each woman tells her own story in first person, separated and introduced by sections written in third person, which makes for a variety of different voices in the spotlight. It’s largely realistic, with certain aspects of fantasy that are depicted in such a way that many characters aren’t sure whether to believe that these things really happened, so I would also recommend it to people who like just a dash of the impossible to spice things up.
Overall, it is a book that I enjoyed, and I had to force myself to take breaks to absorb everything that I’d just read before going back to my swift page-turning. If you decide to give it a try, I predict you’ll also find it a quick read!