cover image Happily: A Personal History—with Fairy Tales

Happily: A Personal History—with Fairy Tales

Sabrina Orah Mark. Random House, $27 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-24247-6

People turn to fairy tales because they want to understand the “muddy terrain of the human psyche,” writes poet and Paris Review columnist Mark (Wild Milk) in her probing memoir-in-essays. Mark uses fairy tales as framing devices to unpack a range of topics including motherhood, marriage, racism, and mortality. When thinking about how to protect her Black Jewish sons from racism and anti-Semitism, she turns to Pinocchio’s Geppetto, who “in the world of fairy tales” is “the mother of all mothers.” Bluebeard’s wives offer a way to parse the “many lives” Mark’s husband had before they married (he has two ex wives). Tom Thumb, the boy who is “caught inside a swallow cycle,” reminds Mark that she fears this “dear, sick country” will swallow her sons, and Rapunzel’s long hair prompts her to think about her 20-year-old sister, who was diagnosed with cancer and needs a wig. Mark’s sharp analysis captures the “cultural resilience” of fairy tales, and her writing hums with lyrical self-reflection (“I was the rattle-ghost that disrupted my friend’s kingdom”). Readers will find this full of insight. Agent: Sarah Bowlin, Aevitas Creative. (Mar.)