Monday, December 5, 2011

Memewar 12: "Glass Coffin," Lucile Barker

I'm a fairy tale aficionado (see what I did there, Jen G.?), so I was immensely pleased that the latest issue of Memewar had a childhood theme and just happened to include a few fairy tale related pieces.

I mentioned this one in my post on the table of contents, where I said that I wasn't sure if this was fiction or non-fiction. I'd say it was fiction just because the writer's name is different from the main character's, but I've fudged even my own name in some pieces that I played fast and loose with in order to respect privacy or feel less guilty about fudging events for dramatic effect.

Anyway, young Maggie lives in a practically post-apocalyptic industrial valley full of pollution and smog, and she seems to be allergic to almost everything airborne. Her only relief comes from nasty medicine and a strike on the town factory. When things get really bad after some neighbors push her into a patch of ragweed, Maggie ends up in a hospital in an oxygen tent/iron lung (conflicting descriptions, so not sure which), her "Prince Charming" the doctor and her "Wicked Stepmother" the mother superior who has no patience for crying.

I found the fairy tale link very interesting, since it's not a retelling but an attempt to link a fairy tale to something that resembles real life. Structurally, the story felt a little anticlimactic. For the first half of the story, Maggie is free but very limited by her illness, and for the second half she is getting into and waking up to her confinement in the oxygen tent/iron lung. The only thing that brings it full circle--and this it does nicely--is a final line that refers to the opening line, in which the narrator says that seeing babies in carriers with plastic covers reminds her of the times she was trapped inside. I admire the way the connection is made, but I feel as though the story pretty much just drops off with the last line as an excuse to end it. This isn't the first time Maggie has been to the hospital or the last, so there aren't really any heightened emotions. It's just routine, except that she felt as though she died before she was taken there. There's an odd contradiction between the fairy tale imagery, which would seem to suggest that she's trying to make sense of a new place, and her resignation--rather than fear or sadness--that she's back in the hospital.

My favorite line: "I liked Snow White best. ... My grandfather had worked at a coal mine when he was in college, so I could relate to a girl who hung out with the working class even if they were short and didn't seem to be union members."

I also want to throw out there that I love the illustrations accompanying this story. There are three, all of which have a cute red headed girl/young woman in different medical machines: an iron lung, a wheelchair, an oxygen mask. The bright colors of her hair and clothing contrast with the dull greys of the medical devices. I had a friend in elementary school who made sure she got purple head gear for exactly this reason: so that she was not just someone to be pitied, but someone who was making the best of a bad situation. She'd often hang beads, key chains, and flowers from the frame to jazz it up. Being confined to a wheelchair doesn't change childhood dreams. If anything, in the mind of an imaginative child, it might even make them more brilliant.

--Sarah Lawrence

1 comment:

Popped said...

This sounds like a piece that needed just a little more editing. It's not often that you have a story (fiction or non) where the protagonist's main enemy is allergies. I love its spin on Snow White, and it's a shame the story didn't reach it's full potential. Maybe Barker was trying to say that modern fairy tales don't necessarily have endings/don't have resolution?
I'd definitely like to read this piece!
---Jen G.