When Gregory Maguire says of his latest novel that "the story is made up, as modernity is (as Picasso told us), of fragments and fractures," you'd be forgiven for not guessing he's referring to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"or at least his conception of the well-worn fairy tale. Mirror Mirror (ReganBooks, 304 pp., $24.95, October) is the latest of Maguire's postmodern takes on classic children's storiesa genre he admits is "becoming my stock-in-trade." His first such reconfiguration, 1995's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, put a dystopian spin on L. Frank Baum's Oz books by approaching them from their villain's perspective. (A musical version of Wicked opens on Broadway in late October.) Maguire struck gold again in 1999 with Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, a rumination on "the relative value of beauty" drawn from "Cinderella."
For Mirror Mirror, Maguire repurposes the allegorical underpinnings of Snow White (cleverly rechristened Bianca de Nevada), from youth to adulthood, to a broad sociohistorical canvas, situating the story in mid-16th-century Italy. "The evolution of thinking and of the Middle Ages into the light of reason was really what the high Renaissance was all about," he says. "It's what the story is about as well." To accomplish his metaphorical feat, Maguire pulls in everything from the biblical "tree of knowledge" to the conniving but oppressed Lucrezia Borgia, who serves nicely as the tale's wicked queen, to eight (count 'em) distinctly non-Disneyesque dwarfs with a knack for mirror making.
Although Mirror Mirror could be seen as a capitulation to literary pigeonholing, Maguire thinks of his task in more far-reaching terms.
"I remember reading a Danish writer talking about his new translation of Andersen's fairy tales. He said, 'I know of no fairy tale that takes the part of the tyrant against the disenfranchised.' And I thought, 'That is my self-granted license to do this stuff.' "
That said, Maguire isn't likely to start knocking off Grimm's back catalog without the proper intellectual impetuseven if it's the prospect of renting a villa in Tuscany, as it was for Mirror Mirror. He's cagey about his next project, but is crystal clear on one point: "It's not going to be Rapunzel in Duluth."
Gregory Maguire reads from Wicked, as cast members of the Broadway version burst into song, on October 27, at Barnes & Noble, 1972 Broadway, 212-595-6859. Maguire gives a reading on November 19 at KGB, 85 East 4th Street, 212-505-3360.
Previews by Jennifer Holmes
NICK MAMATAS+NICK KAUFMANN+SARAH LANGAN+KAREN PERRY
M3 PROJECTS, 70 WASHINGTON STREET, SUITE 700,
Hey! Ho! Let's Poe! In a night of literary reanimation, Nick Mamatas invokes spirits from Joey Ramone to Edgar Allen Poe as he reads from 3000 MPH in Every Direction at Once.
NINA REVOYR+MARK SULLIVAN
SOFT SKULL SHORTWAVE BOOKSTORE,
71 BOND STREET, BROOKLYN, 718.643.1599
Turmoil exists everywhere, from the racially divided streets of L.A. to the fractured mind of a young boy. Revoyr's Southland delves into the racial tension on the West Coast. Sullivan's Jonah Sees Ghosts dissects the emotional state of a child surrounded by dysfunction and alcohol abuse.
KGB BAR, 85 EAST 4TH STREET,
"I want to die." A stranger's words accompanied by the threat of his pocketed gun send 21-year-old Ellis reeling. Follow her journey through life, both psychological and physical, as Vida reads from her debut novel, And Now You Can Go.
BARNES & NOBLE, 1972 BROADWAY,
Bing, pseudonymous bestselling author of Lloyd: What Happened and VP at a large corporation (psst: it's CBS), will read from his latest work, You Look Nice Today, which explores the fragility of large companies and the power structure that supports them. Bing's quick wit will strike a familiar chord with anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world, where it is good to be the King . . . of Queens.
'WILD EAST: STORIES FROM THE LAST FRONTIER'
GALAPAGOS, 70 NORTH 6TH STREET,
Whether you like your literature straight up or on the rocks, you'll find your thirst quenched here. Editor Boris Fishman introduces contributors Gary Shteyngart, Tom Bissell, Paul Greenberg, and Arthur Phillips, who read tales of bohemia, sex, and politics in Eastern Europe. Bottoms up!
HELEN LEFKOWITZ HOROWITZ
MUSEUM OF SEX, 233
FIFTH AVENUE, 212.689.6337
Let's talk about sex, baby: Are Americans swingers or prudes? Come find out as Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz reads from her book Rereading Sex: Battles Over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America.
'THE O. HENRY PRIZE STORIES 2003'
BARNES & NOBLE,
33 EAST 17TH STREET,
New editor Laura Furman introduces winners Douglas Light, Ann Harleman, Bradford Morrow, and Edith Pearlman, among others.
THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, CELESTE BARTOS
FORUM, 476 FIFTH AVENUE, 212.930.0855
The original mistress of punk gallops into the NYPL to perform from Wild Leaves: Poems and Songs of Transition From Mendelssohn to Mapplethorpe.
JEFF VANDERMEER+ELLEN DATLOW+GAVIN GRANT
85 EAST 4TH STREET, 212.505.3360
Is Freddy vs. Jason not cutting it? Are the Jeepers not Creepers enough for you? Enjoy some nightmares and fantasies that will keep you up and dreaming in another dimension. VanderMeer, Datlow, and Grant read from their fiction and spice up the night with a pinch of horror, a sprinkling of magic, and a tablespoon of imaginationthe perfect brew for an evening of fantastic fiction.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.