No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014/18: Indexing -- Seanan McGuire

Everyone thinks of them in terms of poisoned apples and glass coffins, and forgets that they represent girls who walked into dark forests and remade them into their own reflections. Worse, they forget that we’re still remaking those reflections. The whole “woodland creatures” thing is a relatively recent addition to the tale, borrowed from Disney and internalized by so many children that it has actually modified the narrative itself. Even as the narrative drives us, so do we drive it. [loc. 3473]

The premise of Indexing is simple. Narrative is a powerful force that enforces fairy-tale archetypes by playing out the stories over and over again. Anyone can be shaped into a character from a story: memetic incursions can mould a child into a Wicked Stepsister or a Goldilocks. The ATI Management Bureau is dedicated to tracking and containing the incursions, and it uses the Aarne-Thompson classification system to categorise the stories as they manifest.

So: our narrator, Henrietta Marchen (known as Henry), is a seven-oh-nine -- Snow White, and also the daughter of a Sleeping Beauty -- and looks the part. White skin, red lips, black hair: "like a modern-day interpretation of Death," she says wryly, in a nod to Gaiman's Sandman. She has never tasted an apple.

Henry's team members are Jeff, a shoemaker's elf who likes to keep busy; Sloane, a Wicked Stepsister who likes to be a glorious bitch; and Andy, who isn't on the ATI spectrum at all, but who discovered the Bureau after an uncontrolled four-ten (Sleeping Beauty) caused the death of his brother. Together they fight crime subvert the power of story.

Indexing was originally published as a Kindle Serial, and there's an episodic feel to early chapters: first a Snow White incursion, then a Pied Piper, then a Goldilocks ... However, the overall story arc of Indexing encompasses the whole book, and the denouement brings all the stories together in unexpected ways. I was especially taken by the Snow White / Rose Red subplot, which involves Henry's identical twin brother Gerry, and with the Cheshire Cat. (Psychotropic claws, naturally.)

Indexing is entertaining -- occasionally laugh-out-loud funny -- but it's also an interesting take on metafiction and the ways in which stories are shaped and warped by the culture in which they're told. I especially liked Sloane's determination to recast her own story: "Maybe some kid was already dreaming up a Cinderella remix with guerilla fighters in place of stepsisters, and she could tap into that sweet vein of potential story." [loc. 4555]

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