The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold
Kate Bernheimer
(FCZ Publishing)

"...He gave me some leather pants to wear. The pants were so heavy on my legs that I understood how we are all animals." This is the voice of Ketzia Gold, a protagonist who can say anything, gliding between surreal dreamscape and nightmare, the natural world and the fantastic. "A word processor, strictly defined, is rarely required to think," she says from a later vantage point, repressing any externalized passions as she finds solace in typing, her job for a group of private detectives. ...this might be considered a rotten profession for someone who when young was considered at least halfway intelligent. But I beg to differ... I faithfully record many tales here at Triple D Co. that serve to wake up the soul."

The stories of Triple D Co. are of suspected adulterers who are not adulterers at all, caught only in "natural" acts. They're stories of workman's comp claimants forced to stay home watching TV. Of the TV watchers, Ketzia brilliantly says, "When I figured out the difference between them and me--they only receive information while I am an information processor--I recognized the true dread of their existence."

Ketzia is a naked body on a bed, behind a one way mirror in a hot, hourly-rate motel, and at the same time, a girl-child under a Christmas tree with a demented family dog, Hansel. The Christmas tree is a forest, Hansel in the forest, Ketzia's father a tippler.

"For a short, but rather confusing time when I was younger, my sisters and I turned into flowers. We were left to grow in a window box all day, and only my sister was allowed inside at night..." Ketzia the flower. The adolescent Ketzia skips her guitar lessons, instead hiding in the alley behind a fried chicken place. At 14, Ketzia is a liar, already in love with her trophy-winning future husband, Adam. Chewing a greasy chicken wing, leaving Adam even as she falls in love with him. Her woman-self is a looming presence alongside the girl, plagued with visions and knowledge.

It's a novel built of linked stories that move back and forth through time and place, first and third person, fairy tales and contemporary details, to create a kaleidoscopic effect. Every incarnation is separate yet joined, the way memories compile and the future is foretold in the present--character being destiny.

The book is laced with longing, and a sexuality that's peering out from somewhere behind the words, seeping through in images. I asked Bernheimer if this was intentional. She said, "Because the novel is based upon traditional fairy tale plots and motifs, sexuality is the linchpin. Traditionally, fairy tales functioned as sex education. Yet the tellers used codes--think of "The Beast"--to soften the blow for their little listeners. The language of my novel reflects this same effort to conceal yet convey an erotic message...There are fairy tales related to Cinderella, now largely suppressed, where Cinderella's mother dies and the King makes advances on his own daughter. Cinderella designs a disguise of rags and ashes in order to escape. This sort of tale inspires the way the erotic tone is hidden in the novel--inside the writing." Berheimer is also the editor of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales.

Along with sexuality, the novel conveys the harsh world of sibling power struggles, winners and losers, and the heartbreak of a floundering marriage. All of this is delivered through the constant dark glimmer of fairy tale imagery. Bernheimer said, "Fairy tales were often bawdy stories, not meant for children, but as adult entertainment. There's Red Riding Hood, climbing in bed with the wolf...In its "original" Italian version, Red Riding Hood performs an actual striptease on the bed. We don't see that anymore, because the story was subsequently repackaged for children. But somehow, the erotic element remains-- she still clambers into bed with the wolf, after all. As much as we'd like to deny it, there's an underlying erotic element to the tale that both distresses and attracts.

Ketzia is locked in this world that both distresses and attracts.

"The suggestive flashbacks to Ketzia's childhood are meant to invoke the ominous, erotic landscape that traditional fairy tales, upon inspection, troublingly reveal. And the "flash forwards" to her future as a transcriptionist, who practices her typing by keyboarding fairy tales from books, is meant to echo the work of those who gathered oral folklore from the woods and translated it for popular consumption, such as the Grimms. In her future, Ketzia has suppressed her sadness under the guise of cheerful dignity. She has decided that it is more important to remember life tenderly than to foreground her sexual sufferings. This is a play on the homogenization of fairy tales in popular culture, which asks that we overlook fairytales' dark side."

The language of the book is a delight. Simple words build into wild imagery, a few crazy ideas, and a lot of insight. This language deftly carries readers through the complexity of the disparate, yet merged worlds of Ketzia Gold: childhood, adulthood, and victimhood, sensuality and innocence, visions and longing.