The Sweet Taste of Mortality
A review of Jackson Pearce’s Sweetly (Little, Brown and Company, 2011).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Hansel and Gretel is a tale of hunger and displacement. Focussing on the two children losing their home due to hunger and eating of a witch’s house and inspiring her to try to eat them, the tale is one where a loss of home and hunger are intertwined. Jackson Pearce sets her Hansel and Gretel revision in small town America where populations dwindle as people search for homes in areas where they can get work and where the economy is starving.
Her brother and sister team are re-named Ansel and Gretchen and they end up moving into a small town candy shop owned by a young woman named Sophia. Sophia has been blamed with the loss of young women who leave each year to seek work in larger cities and she is ostracised because she is seen to be responsible. In this blame game, Jackson Pearce points to the other side of the fairy tale, the side of gossip and the tales that spread through small towns as people seek to find people to blame for the social issues that occur in their town. The town is also living its own “once upon a time” by constantly trying to portray itself as the quaint but prosperous community it once was, glorifying its past to hide from the issues in its present.
Where the town is glorifying the past, Ansel, Gretchen, and Sophia are all trying to hide from their pasts, changing themselves from the people they once were to avoid the threat of traumatic memories. They carry traumas of the past with them as they seek to re-make themselves and find new possible ways of interacting with the world, wanting to change themselves.
Yet, this is not just a tale of economies in small town America. The woods are places full of horrors and places where no one wants to wander off or get lost. Pearce’s tale is filled with magic, but it is also filled with horror and fear. Ansel, Gretchen, and Sophia are all linked by a desire to make things better, but they are also linked by a shared fear, an uncertainty about the future and the threats that proliferate around them.
To discover more about Jackson Pearce, visit her website at http://jackson-pearce.com/sweetly/