Richard Parks, The Ogre's Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups (Obscura Press, 2002)

This book, while cleverly masquerading as a delightful collection of "Fairy Tales for Grownups," sneaks in under the radar and teaches profound lessons about those deepest mysteries of the human heart while keeping the reader otherwise engaged.

Often when I read a collection of short fiction I find myself bouncing back and forth through the text, skipping about and sampling until I discover I've finished the book in its entirety or lost the book somewhere between the bedroom and the kitchen. In this case, though, I found myself pulled from one story to the next without pause by the consistency of the themes within the stories.

In the introduction, Parke Godwin makes the statement that Robert Parks "uses fantasy to underscore reality," and that is precisely what he does. This lucid examination of emotional reality comes through clearly in the stories that pay homage to fairytale and myth. Stories like "The Beauty of Things Unseen," in which an aging Pooka embarks on one final quest before he is allowed his funeral, or "A Place to Begin," in which a little girl named Umi finds herself sold off to the sorceress White Willow as a handmaiden. Or the wierd, wonderful, and decidedly Dunsanian "Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng," in which Seven falls in love with a girl from afar, but finds that to win her he must first surrender parts of himself to the demon Golden Bell.

This collection also includes several stories that fall under the science fiction label. "Doppels," both a clever satire on the nature of fame and a cunning prophecy of the future of entertainment, follows the replacement of Kent Doolan, talk show personality and holo-star, with a manufactured and ageless clone. In addition, there are the three Eli Mothersbaugh stories "Wrecks," "The God Of Children" and "A Respectful Silence," each of which chronicles a different case of Eli's, investigating haunted places with his array of ghostbusting gear.

Other stories that make up the rest of the collection include "Borrowed Lives," in which an impulse purchase leads one man into an alternate lifeline; "The Trickster's Wife," in which we find Sigyn, wife of Loki, entertaining visitors as she tends to her husband in his prison; and the title story "The Ogre's Wife," in which, in clear, lucid language, Parks builds a consumate fairytale setting, then succeeds in turning the plot on its head in the last few paragraphs while illuminating the fulcrum that creates harmony and equality in a marriage.

I expect to return to this book again, but only after I've loaned it to friends. Hopefully you will find the same magic in it that I did.

[Wes Unruh]