The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Lavery* is a collection of short stories that are, loosely, retellings of fairy tales, myths, and religious stories, but not quite in the way you might think. Lavery uses the old stories as jumping-off points but transforms them, mixes them with other stories, and gives them modern themes without losing the fairy-tale atmosphere (fairy-tale in the Grimm sense, not the Disney sense).
This was my last read of 2020 and one of the best. The first story, a retelling of the Little Mermaid, completely captured my interest with its feminist viewpoint. I don’t want to spoil the plots of any of the stories so won’t provide details of them, but Lavery rejects all assumptions a writer might make about what aspects of the old stories must remain the same and what can change. A few of the stories mix in modernity, like envisioning the Angel of God as a kind of bureaucrat. Others put modern “everyday horrors,” like gaslighting, into a fairy-tale setting. All of the stories show Lavery’s tremendous creativity and inventiveness. They aren’t happy stories, on the whole, but are a delight to read.
*The copy I have shows the author’s name as Mallory Ortberg, but he now goes by Daniel Lavery.