Friday, April 6, 2018

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster: Tales for Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

3.75 stars

Mallory Ortberg’s short story collection focuses on the fairy tales of the past or beloved children stories and twists them into horrifying and shocking heights. I will admit not all the stories in this collection are perfect, but I can’t remember the last time I read so many 5-star short stories in a collection. Ortberg is skilled at telling the story in a way familiar to the reader and then leaving the story with a mouth-dropping ending. The majority of the endings are not horrifying in the usual slasher film sense, but they are creepy in the same way that one knows that something far worse is to come, but it cuts off at just the right time Ortberg is strongest in this suite, but she is also weak in several other areas. I will review each story briefly to better clarify my exact meaning because overall, I think she is a strong writer, but she struggles to gain footing with certain stories and I think this is because she was trying a new approach to writing or a different writing style to emulate the original tales.

Whimsical Writing Scale: 3.75

The Daughter Cells3.5 stars

“I can think of a dozen better things I could do with a soul.”

The story of “The Little Mermaid” is famous and beloved my many ‘90s children who experienced the Disney adaptation. However, the original tale is quite dark and I would consider it to border on horror and it is definitely a tragedy. This story takes a delightful turn and the mermaid has more Ursula-like qualities that are quite bone-chilling. I love a good soulless mermaid. My biggest problem with this that it takes a while to gain its footing. The narrative is a little wonky and it isn’t until the mermaid talks to the sea-witch that the story takes a dark turn and was able to capture my attention and make me excited about where it could end. It ends on a high note if you were wondering.

The Thankless Child1.5 stars

“To be grateful is to be wakeful and watchful.”

This is a “Cinderella” retelling and I say that very loosely. There is a Godmother who acts as a deity for a household and if I’m being honest, this story is all over the place. I was struggling to follow the plot, the characters, and the point. The purpose of the overall story failed to go anywhere at the end and I was severely letdown. I dislike Cinderella anyway and I generally hold retellings at a higher standard, but this was not well-done. To say the least, I was underwhelmed.

Fear Not: An Incident Log5 stars

“The Voice of God, once heard, is not easily unheard.”

This is a retelling of Genesis from the point of the view of the Lord’s Angel. The main focal point is the wrestling match that occurred between Jacob and the Lord’s Angel before he became Israel and the horror and guilt this angel feels even though he swears he feels nothing of the sort. I absolutely loved this story. The writing was superb and I felt like Ortberg’s writing style was shining through. I love Genesis in general, but I really liked seeing a new perspective on it. Highly recommend!

The Six-Boy Coffin – >b>5 stars

“If the next child you bear me is a girl, then let the six others die, so that our wealth need not be divided and that she alone may inherit the kingdom.”

I was destined to love this story because it is based off of “The Six Swans” and my favorite fantasy novel is Daughter of the Forest. This story is so very reminiscent of Sorcha’s plight and her quest to restore her brothers back to humans while being forced into silence that it made me long to reread that wonderful story. However, this is a horror collection and while elements of “The Six Swans” are a little scary this took a delightfully satisfying turn with the last lines and the subtle shift in the main character. I was incredibly impressed by this one and I absolutely loved it.

The Rabbit5 stars

“Can you take the Real out of a boy, then? Can you take his heart into your own self and leave him stuffed with sawdust on the nursery floor in your place?”

This is based off the beloved children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit” and it is hands down my favorite in this collection. “The Rabbit” is easily the most horrifying story in this collection as we see the rabbit’s obsession with becoming Real and taking the life force from a child who loves him. The illnesses the boy faces are horrifying and my stomach was churning thinking about all the toys I’ve owned as a little girl. I was definitely left feeling scared and creeped out.

The Merry Spinster3.5 stars

“Everyone belongs to someone. You’re not allowed to belong to yourself.”

This is a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and focuses on a girl who is called Beauty for ironic reasons. She’s plain, unremarkable and insights no inspiration in those around her. Her mother ends up being the one to have her daughter a captor of the Beast or Mr. Beale, a businessman of sorts. This was really promising, but the ending ruined it for me.

The Wedding Party1 star

Honestly, I can’t tell you what this story is about. They were talking about “The Goose Girl” at one point and I’m sure it is reminiscent of it in some aspect, but this was just bad. The main character was a complete misogynist who had a strong entitlement and I just couldn’t with him as a narrator. I get that some men are just insufferable and that this was commentary, but I didn’t get the story as a whole so I feel like the social commentary went over my head a bit since I couldn’t see the whole scope of the narrative.

Some of Us Had Been Threatening Mr. Toad3.25 stars

“We’ll rescue the poor, unhappy animal! We’ll convert him—why, he’ll be the most converted Toad there ever was by the time we’re done with him.”

This was a unique story with a gruesome twist. It follows a bunch of your average sweet, fluffy talking animals and they are not happy with their friend Mr. Toad. See, Mr. Toad has been stealing things and feeling entitled and they have had enough, so what better way to show him that he needs to repent than by torturing him. The concept was scary, but it is a little off-putting to read from the perspective of this narrator. I feel like it was just easy to get confused about plot points and it took me out the story.

Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters4.5 stars
“For our story, it all led to sin in the end, and it all began with the listlessness and self-forgetting that comes not from God.”

This story follows an old mother as she recounts her son’s greatest sin— falling in love with a siren. They struck a bargain that the mother was fine with, but when it started to impose upon her grandchildren she took matters into her own hands. Matthew 5:29-30 “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” The mother definitely stuck to this verse and it was scary.

The Frog Princess3 stars

“Beauty is a public good and you are responsible for it.”

This is based off “The Princess and the Frog” and it is an interesting twist, but it is not horrifying by any means. In fact, it felt very out of place in this collection. It was scary or intimidating and I was confused by Ortberg’s pronoun usage because it is never explained or specified and this lead to me thinking there was another character when there wasn’t it. It was a bit of a mess.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors2 stars

This was a frustrating story. I honestly just can’t wrap my head around it being this collection because it wasn’t horrifying. It was frustrating. Human manipulation and being the brunt of someone’s tactics for power is scary, but it needed more.

Overall, The Merry Spinster is a strong collection. It has some fantastic tales, but it also has some complete busts. It’s your typical hit-and-miss short story collection. I just personally found there were more hits than misses for me.

Cover Thoughts: I’m living for this cover. When I saw it on Netgalley I was blown away! I love it so much.

Thank you, Netgalley and Holt Paperbacks, for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Are you interested in The Merry Spinster? Are you a fan of horror stories? What are some of you favorite fairy tales? Let me know down below in the comments!


  1. Oh wow you have like every star rating happening here, right?! I can imagine that'd make the whole anthology feel really up and down! I don't read a lot of horror...or anthologies haha, but I really like the sound of a lot of these. Like the Swan stories!! I always loved that tale as a kid. I'd love to see a creepy dark version...

    1. Yes! I rate the entire novel off of each story and the rating that it receives. So, I give feedback on each story.:) Yes! Check this one out! Even if it's not your usual jam, it may be something you really enjoy. I love the Swan story as well, especially Daughter of the Forest's version of it. Hope you check this collection out! It may surprise you.:D


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