I found Francesca Lia Block quite by accident. I was looking online to see what Suza Scalora (one of my favorite artist/photographers) had illustrated - to see if she had published any other books (in addition to her Fairies and other book) - and I noticed she had illustrated the front cover of The Rose and the Beast (it's a gorgeous photo illustration, by the way).
This collection of "fairy tales retold" by Block was intriguing. I have long been retelling fairy tales in a weird and twisted way, so I was naturally curious as to how Block treated it, and wondered if she was a "sister spirit" in writing. Reading about Block, I noticed she was placed by publishers in a strange liminal zone where she wasn't quite treated as a writer for an adult audience (fairy tales are always treated as childish in the Western world), but she was too dark and real for children. She now has a very avid fandom of young adult females.
The Rose and the Beast had some dark adult undercurrents in its pages, but nothing too horrifying for women coming-of-age. Inside her pages are stories of Sleeping Beauty pricking herself with heroin needles, Bluebeard the serial killer and Little Red Riding Hood's Wolf as a child molester and wife-beater. Many of the other stories were less intense - but frankly, I liked the stories that touched upon the more violent and sadistic side of society better. There was something more satisfying about them.
I found "Wolf" to be very suspenseful and intriguing - it had a genius quality - a story that flowed so easily it seemed the author wrote it quickly and in a deep trance. The voice of the narrator was very raw - it seemed honest and real. One paragraph reads: "I don't know what else I said, but I do know that he started laughing at me, this hideous tooth laugh, and I remembered him above me in that bed with his clammy hand on my mouth and his ugly ugly weight and me trying to keep hanging on because I wouldn't let him take my mom away, that was the one thing he could never do and now he had..." (p. 127-128)
"Bones" was another one of the stories I just loved. It begins with "I dreamed of being a part of the stories-even the terrifying ones, even horror stories-because at least the girls in stories were alive before they died." (p. 153) Bones continues with "We were all over his house. On the floor and the couches and tables and beds. He had music blasting from speakers everywhere and I let it take me like when I was at shows, thrashing around, losing the weight of who I was - the self-consciousness and anxiety, to the sound. He said, You're so tiny, like a doll, you look like you might break. I wanted him to break me. Part of me did. He said, I can make you whatever you want to be. I wanted him to. But what did I want to be?"
As you continue to read, you discover that "Derrick Blue" is a modern-day Bluebeard, collecting bones in deranged, serial killer fashion...And the story gains in suspense while you root for the female narrator to escape his Casanova clutches.
Block ends her book with a punch in her story "Ice". It first reads: "She came that night like every girl's worst fear, dazzling frost star ice queen. Tall and with that long silver blond hair and a flawless face, a perfect body in white crushed velvet and a diamond snowflake tiara." How many hordes of young women can relate to their hearts getting run over as the men (or boys) they love fall for an "ice queen"?
Block's genius is that she writes in a down-to-earth, yet metaphorical fashion for her readership: the young female. She finds the archetypal themes still threading through contemporary society and shines light on them, while catching a raw and honest young woman's voice, as if in snapshot.
About the only weak link that I found was her story Charm. I got a little lost in Charm and wasn't always certain - or interested - in what was happening. It could have been my mind-state at the time however, and the other stories were well worth it, so I should give Charm another chance.
I'm now another fan of Francesca Lia Block, for her modern-day risks in lyricism, her magical realism, her metaphorical, mythical themes, her archetypal yet fleshed out characters...Since The Rose and the Beast is divvied into 9 stories, her book is both a fast intriguing read, and one you can easily put down if you are interrupted constantly by a busy lifestyle. The book is definitely worth buying, and in this case, you can tell a book by its cover!