Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. ★★★
Trigger warning for sexual assault, suicide, and abuse.
Six-Gun Snow White is a dark, adult fairy tale novella from the masterful Catherynne M. Valente. While I enjoyed Valente’s prose, I ultimately found the book too strange for my taste.
Snow White is the daughter of a Nevada silver baron and a Crow woman he forced into marriage with him who dies in childbirth. When her father remarries, the stepmother, a socialite from the East Coast, renames the girl Snow White in reference to the pale skin she doesn’t have.
The early chapters are told from Snow White’s perspective, but the narrative switches to third person partway through. I really wish it hadn’t done this. Switching to third person only increased the dreamlike feeling of watching the events unfold but not having a connection to anyone involved. This effect might have been what Valente was going for, but I think it contributed to my dissatisfaction with the novella.
I liked the voice of the narration a lot. Valente’s using an “old timey West” feel to relate her retold fairy tale. While I did like the voice, I wonder if it was actually accurate to Snow White’s character. Snow White was the daughter of a rich white man and brought up with governesses. Would she really have a country dialect?
A lot of the book is about Snow White being mixed race. She endures awful abuse at the hands of her stepmother, who’s trying to make her into a white woman. Example – she makes Snow White bath in freezing cold milk and hold ice cubes inside her bodily crevices. Snow White faces racism from a lot of different quarters, and it definitely plays into a scene where a man tries to rape her. When reading a book by a white author about a protagonist of another race, I try to find reviews by people of that race. The two reviews I found by Native American women had less than positive things to say about this facet of the book.
Additionally, you don’t see much of the Crow people or Native American culture. In part, I think this may be because all characters outside of Snow White are resolutely two dimensional. Possibly this was another conscious choice on Valente’s part, but it’s another decision that didn’t work for me.
Maybe it was the experimental and disjointed nature of Six-Gun Snow White that left me cold. The ending in particular was bizarre. For whatever reason, I just didn’t like this book as much as everyone else seems to.
As a positive, Six-Gun Snow White includes illustrations from Charlie Bowater, which is actually how I heard about the book in the first place. The illustrations where black and white digital paintings with a soft, dreamlike feel.
I have no idea if I would recommend Six-Gun Snow White. I think you’re appreciation for it will depend on you’re tolerance for experimental literature. I might get more out of it if I read it a second time to analyze for themes, but it’s too dark for me to want to go through it again.