Published: 2013 by Subterranean Press
Genres: Fantasy, Western
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Six-Gun Snow White combines the mythos of the Wild West with the familiar story of Snow White, crafting a poignant story of what it’s like to be an outsider. The story begins when Mr. H., a silver baron, coerces a Native American woman named Gun Who Sings to be his wife. Gun Who Sings doesn’t conform to the white man’s way of life, and dies soon after bearing a child. The girl has a lonely childhood, running wild in the gilded cage of the estate while learning how to shoot and play cards. Then one day Mr. H. remarries. Mrs. H. doesn’t like the girl, and calls her Snow White for the pale skin she’ll never have. She torments Snow White, and Snow White mistakes it for love. Then one day she has enough and runs away.
As usual, Cat Valente has blown my mind. Her writing is exquisite, and I’m having a serious book hangover after reading Six-Gun Snow White. Valente has the knack for making other people’s books look lifeless by comparison. She takes a story we know and love and upends it and crafts it into a mythical version of American history that doesn’t shy away from examining it’s darkest moments, but does so in a way that augments the original story rather than overshadowing it. It’s fucking brilliant, and if you haven’t read Valente’s work, you need to do so immediately.
Mild spoilers below, because the book is only 168 pages and I want to discuss it in a little more depth.
The added layer of Snow White’s search for her identity adds a completely different dimension to the familiar fairy tale. She’s caught between two worlds and yet a part of neither. She drinks, smokes, and cheats at cards, but even though she’s a total badass, what she really wants is to find her place in the world. She wants a home, she wants to be loved, she wants to find some place or thing that she can call her own, and she can’t. She can never fit into her father and stepmother’s world, because it views her as savage. She can’t go back to her mother’s village, where she’s viewed as a white woman. Even her time with the book’s version of the seven dwarves is seen as a fairy tale escape from the reality that Snow White is trapped in. Snow White spirals deeper and deeper into depression and eats the proverbial apple.
I reread the ending six times because it takes Snow White’s story to a whole different level. Snow White isn’t just a person, she’s the story of what it means to be caught between racial identities in a rigid society. And even though the story seems hopeless, she wakes up to the modern world where she can truly shine, becoming a scientist and discovering a star. And we don’t usually think of the present as belonging in a fairy tale, but it’s only in modernity that Snow White experiences the chance to truly be happy, because now women and minorities have a place in society and can do anything they want and the fact that they aren’t white and male doesn’t stop them from achieving their dreams. Rather than running from her stepmother, Snow White can finally build a life of her own.