Goodreads: Rapunzel Let Down
Series: Fairy Tale Novels #6
Source: Received from author in exchange for an honest review
Content Note: Regina has specified that this installment of the Fairy Tale Novels series is more suitable for her older fans as it addresses issues such as out-of-wedlock pregnancy. If you are concerned about handing the book to a younger reader, you can read Regina’s explanation of how Rapunzel Let Down differs from the previous books.
Summary: While on a family vacation in New England, eighteen-year-old Hermes McCaffrey takes on a dare to climb the tower of a neighboring house—only to discover that the tower is occupied by the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Taken with Raphaela’s looks and intelligence, Hermes secretly continues his nightly visits. An unexpected pregnancy, however, thrusts the young couple into a suddenly very adult world.
Review: Rapunzel Let Down returns to the roots of the original fairy tale, in which the prince, rather than rescue the maiden, impregnates her before finding himself wandering in the wild as a result of his transgressions. The story thus takes on a much darker tone than any of Doman’s previous Fairy Tale Novels. Taking as its starting point the question of the prince’s motivations, the book explores the various ways in which people misuse sexuality to harm and exploit each other–and end up harming themselves in the process. The book is gritty and it is real–but, in the end, offers the hope of redemption.
Among fairy tale retellings, Doman’s really stand out, not only because their contemporary setting is both refreshing and original, but also because they focus on the morality implicit in the original tales. Thus, unlike many young adult novels set in contemporary times, Rapunzel Let Down refuses to condescend to its audience. The book assumes that its readers know right from wrong, assumes that they have the strength to choose right. It is a daring move in a society that has come to accept consequence-free sex almost as a right.
The focus on Hermes, a male, as the protagonist in a story about an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is also an unexpected move. The chapters actually alternate between his viewpoint and that of Raphaela, but his fall and his subsequent regret drive the plot. This decision does not serve merely to make Hermes more a more sympathetic character than his decisions might otherwise have made him, but also allows the book to explore the ways in which Hermes failed in his responsibility to love and respect the girl he claims to cherish. It creates a subtle commentary on the relationships between men and women, illustrating the concept that love means putting others before one’s own desires.
Unfortunately, the nature of the book as a fairy tale retelling does mean that some of the characters are rather less nuanced in their moral position than Hermes. And these depictions threaten to ruin the credibility of the more positive messages the book contains. The villain, for instance, though given a tragic backstory to explain the logic behind her warped actions, might have better served a story set in the modern world if she had come across in shades of grey. Doman calls her a feminist, but the positions she adopts are always extremes and she ends up no more than a caricature of what people think feminism is rather than what it truly stands for. Though women such as her may exist, contemporary audiences tend to respond with more enthusiasm to villains who show themselves conflicted. Dismissing the villain and her views is all too easy when they seem like parodies of the beliefs many people actually hold.
And quite frankly, it is difficult to like a book that presents feminism as evil rather than engaging the idea of feminism with more charity and a little more research. Catholicism teaches, after all, says that men and women are equal in dignity. Feminism calls for women to be able to make equal pay for equal work, for women to be able to choose to be a wife and mother if they choose or to hold a career if they choose or to do both if they choose, for women to be given paid maternity leave, for women to be free from catcalls and harassment, for women not to be forced to adhere to sexist dress codes at work. The goals of feminism call for respect for women, not hatred for men. Feminism is not the opposite of Catholicism as Doman seems to think but is in many ways aligned with Catholic values. But at times the book seems to conflate extreme conservative politics with Catholicism in a very troubling way, suggesting that one cannot be Catholic and feminist at the same time.
Further, [warning: discussion of graphic content/rape] a rape occurs towards the end of the book. Doman’s perspective on this is that it is not a rape. The book suggests that because the girl previously consented to sex that forcing her into intercourse later on when she is ill and groggy and wants to be left alone, does not constitute rape. The book suggests that it is only crazy liberal feminists who would think this and that sexual politics have gotten way out of hand when a boy can’t have sex with a girl anytime he wants even if she’s too ill and sleepy to consent and only submits at the end because she knows she has to or he won’t leave her alone. Talk about a terrible message to give to readers! According to the book, pressuring a girl into doing something against her will isn’t rape! According to the book, pressuring a girl into sex when she is too ill to know what is happening isn’t rape! What it is according to Doman remains unclear. The implication is almost that the girl had it coming to her since she consented to fornication previously.
Fans of retold fairy tales, especially those that retain some of the darkness of the original tales, should find Rapunzel Let Down a unique contribution to the many retellings currently available. It tackles many tough issues ranging from consent to abortion, taking its readers in the process on a twisted journey through the consequences of sin– and that is its strong point. It also gives a hopeful message by promising that relationships can be restored and trust rebuilt through sacrifice and love. However, the warped understanding of feminism and rape ultimately threaten to destroy any credibility this book might have with readers. I worry that it is even a dangerous book if it convinces even one reader that rape is not rape.
Notes: Though the book is the sixth book published in the Fairy Tale Novels series, it it distinct from the others and can be read alone. The first three form a trilogy while books four, five, and six each feature new characters (with some recurring characters as a bonus for fans).
*Review edited 4/17 to include more reflection on some of the problematic aspects of the book.
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