Pros: Fantastic collection of strong female characters
Cons: When does this take place?
Rating: 4 out of 5
In Christopher Coleman’s Gretel, Gretel’s mother, Anika, is kidnapped by a witch in order to be part of a potion the witch needs in order to avoid aging any further. The goal is immortality. As it turns out, there’s something a little special about Anika’s blood that draws the witch’s attention to Anika’s family, in particular her children: 14-year-old Gretel and 8-year-old Hansel.
Since Anika disappeared months earlier, Hansel and Gretel have tried to move on with their lives. Gretel has even taken a job with the neighboring farmers in order to support her family. Unfortunately, they aren’t safe yet from the witch’s predations.
The setting is ambiguous. The area in which it’s set feels low-tech. There are no ubiquitous cell phones, and if you want to visit your neighbors you’d best bring your canoe. On the other hand, when a representative of “The System” comes to call in response to Anika’s disappearance, the car turns out to be heavily computerized. It’s an odd duality, a story that’s somewhat unmoored in time and space. I’m a little ambiguous in my feelings toward it. It’s a tad confusing, but it does somehow evoke a bit of that ‘adrift in time and space’ feeling that some fairy tales project.
My favorite part of this story is the characters. From Gretel’s bed-bound father, to her grandfather (who’s been hiding something), the officer from the System and his own kid, Petr–the characters have a ton of life and drive to them. This is also one of the best collections of strong female characters that I’ve seen in a long time. They aren’t abnormally perfect–they’re just used to having to rely on themselves and each other (or they’re just starting to learn how much it would help if they did so).
For a story that relates itself to such a strong and well-known fairy tale, Gretel does it beautifully. There’s enough here to make the comparison, but it tears off in its own directions as well. I fully enjoyed Coleman’s story.