Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fairest of Them All: Excerpt and Giveaway




Some might say that novelist Carolyn Turgeon's books tell the hidden side of fairy tales. That's true enough, but I'd put it differently: Her books tell of the ways women relate to one another through beauty. The idea behind Carolyn's latest, The Fairest of Them All, is deceptively simple: What if Rapunzel were Snow White's "evil stepmother"? That is, what if we saw the evolution of how a sympathetic woman renowned for her beauty became so obsessed with another person's loveliness that she'd order her death? It's a variation on a theme Carolyn explored in Mermaid, which spotlights the relationship between the mermaid and the princess of the classic fairy tale: "They're both beautiful, but they are literally different species, and I wanted to explore that complicated relationship." I asked her about the ways the heroines of The Fairest of Them All relate to beauty:

"In fairy tales, women like Rapunzel and Snow White tend to be valued for their beauty above anything else. I mean, they can be stuck in a tower or lying dead in a coffin in the forest and the most eligible bachelors will still fall in love with them instantly, that is how hot they are. I’m not sure that anyone’s falling in love with anyone because of their great hearts or their mutual love of The Smiths, if you know what I mean. In that context, how’s a dazzler like Rapunzel or Snow White—or any other woman who believes that her only value or power comes from her beauty—going to deal with getting older? The evil queen’s obsession with her mirror and hatred of Snow White seem like an understandable reaction to me, when it comes down to it. That kind of privileging of youth and beauty of course creates plenty of anxiety and rivalry among women—though in real life they might not eat each other’s hearts—which I personally try to address and find some way out of in my books.

"I think part of what makes Snow White so lovable and so marriageable is that she’s not only stunning but totally humble; there she is hanging out with birds and squirrels, oblivious to the fact that she’s so hot that men are falling all over themselves to get with her. Armed with youth, good genes, and a fairy gift or two, she can afford to be. The evil queen doesn’t really have that luxury, not anymore. There she is, off to the side, still beautiful but no longer getting any of that attention that’s now being lavished on Snow White. We like women who are beautiful but don’t know they are; we like those ladies in the Dove ads who are stunned and delighted to discover that they’re lovely. I think part of what makes the queen so evil is that she’s not being bashful or humble about the fact that she’s beautiful. She’s fully aware of her beauty and the power it once gave her but isn’t really giving her anymore. And she’s pissed! She knows full well what youth and beauty will bring Snow White: marriage, love, the potential for riding off into a happily ever after…until she gets that first gray hair, anyway."

Enjoy the excerpt below that expands on this idea—and leave a comment to be entered to win a signed paperback copy of The Fairest of Them All. The novel is written for adults but also has great young adult crossover appeal. Giveaway open through 11:59 p.m. ET August 19, 2013. And hey, New York readers: Join me tonight at 6 p.m. at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble to hear Carolyn read from the book! More events nationwide listed here.


*     *     *


I was the girl with the long long hair, trapped in the tower. You have no doubt heard of me. As a young woman I was very famous for those tresses, even though I lived in the middle of the woods and had never even been to court, not for a feast or a wedding or a matter of law.

My hair was like threads of gold flowing down my back and past the floor. If I didn’t tie it up, it would sweep across the stone and collect dust like a broom. I could lean out my tower window and it would fall out like an avalanche, gleaming like the sun hitting the water. It was as bright as sunflowers or daisies, softer than fur, stronger than an iron chain.

Every night I took horsetail and aloe from the garden, spoke words over them, and boiled them and mashed them into a thin pulp, which I then combed through my locks to make them strong and healthy and almost impossible to break. I would sing, and inhale the rich scent, to make the work go faster. To this day I love that feeling, of fingers running through my hair, the weight of it as it falls on my back.

Poets and troubadours sang of my beauty then.

It was sorcery, that hair. Sometimes now I wonder if things would have been different, had I been plain.

It is a hard thing, not being that girl any longer. Even as I sit here, I cannot help but turn toward the mirror and ask the question I have asked a thousand times before:

“Who is the fairest of them all?”

The mirror shifts. The glass moves back and forth, like water. And then my image disappears, until a voice, like a memory, or something from my bones and skin, gives me the same answer it always does now:

She is.
I turn back to the parchment in front of me and try to ignore the ache inside. The apple waits on the table next to me, gleaming with poison. All that’s left to do is write it down, everything that happened, so that there will still be some record in this world.

38 comments:

  1. I am excited for this book! Thanks for the giveaway.

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    1. Hi Rebecca—congrats! Comment #1 (you) won the book. Send me an e-mail at the.beheld.blog@gmail.com with your mailing address and I'll get it off in the mail to you!

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  2. Very cool premise. I look forward to reading this book, whether I win or not. :-)

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  3. like the excerpt. looking forward to reading the rest.

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  4. i am very much looking forward to reading this book. now in my mid 30s, I often find myself thinking about what it means to be getting older, how the world responds to me as my youth fades and as beauty takes on a different meaning....

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  5. Love the excerpt - looks like an interesting read!

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  6. This book looks really interesting. Would love to read it!

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  7. I want it! Send me one. :D (also - would love to be linked to the author to review on my blog!)

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  8. Amazing concept! I'm truly fascinated by how the concept of beauty relates to one's self-worth/self-esteem and how we can keep this correlation in its proper perspective as we age (hopefully gracefully, not so much resentfully)!

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  9. Interesting concept.

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  10. Ah, so princesses DO get older?! I have always wondered how Cinderella would deal with grey hair and crows feet. I will read this book. Thank you for sharing!

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  11. Awesome! I have been waiting to read this book for a long time. Thanks!

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  12. I'm looking forward to reading this. Thanks for the giveaway!

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  13. Oh this sounds fascinating! I must read this!

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  14. This book sounds fantastic. Can't wait to read it!

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  15. I love the original (aptly named) Grimms' Fairy Tales, and have always been fascinated by the depiction of older or less beautiful women as dead mothers or hags that meet gruesome fates. I can't wait to read this book!

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  16. Wow, amazing excerpt! I am definitely putting this on my reading queue! Thank you!

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  17. ahh, this is so interesting! we were just dissecting the cultural messages of fairy tales in a body image group i am in a few weeks ago...very similar to this!

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  18. And don't forget: what happens with Snow White when she grows older and starts to lose her looks? The prince didn't fall in love with her for her sparkling conversation or because of their shared values; he kissed her back to life because she looked so beautiful in her glass coffin. All Snow White has, she got from her looks. Her life literally depended on it. So when she starts to show her age God help any daughters she might have because she might make her stepmother look kind in comparison.

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  19. I would love to gift this to my nieces!

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  20. I've always hated the messages Disney princesses conveyed to girls. Beauty makes you valuable, and only beauty; when you lose beauty you become evil and spiteful. How wonderful to have this topic tackled in it's own "fairy tale." I hope to read this book!

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  21. This looks super interesting! I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of some (many?) women and our relationship to beauty -- whether it's effectively a willing participation in our own objectification. Short answer: UGH IT'S SUPER COMPLICATED, Y'ALL.

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  22. I have been wanting to read some modern rewrites of fairy tales and this looks excellent :)

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  23. This looks amazing! I'm definitely going to read this even if I don't win.

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  24. I guess (actually, sincerely hope) that this blog will never stop to amaze me. The whole beaty thing is really super complicated, just like Megan Carr said, and the book excerpt reminds me of the movie "Snowwhite and the Huntsman", because it was the first movie where the audience was allowed to see the reason behind cruelty of the new Queen. Definately adding to my must-read list!

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  25. Good combination of my two favourite fairy tales..cant imagine rapunzel in negative role..would definitely read when i get it..

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  26. Interesting concept. As a "pretty girl" just getting ready to turn 42, I'm eager to see how Rapunzel's character develops.

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  27. Wow, what an interesting excerpt/book!

    Fairy tales amaze me. There's so much more to them than we might realize when we first listen to them as kids.

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