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Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente
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1151158,442 (3.71)2



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I am going to exalt an Unpopular Opinion, which I’m sure in Internet will interpret as hate. If you would be so kind, blame my English lit background — if I cannot unpack something, what’s the point of living?

Speak Easy is, as foretold by the back cover summary, a mixture of Twelve Dancing Princesses with the origin of Zelda Sayre (here Fair) with F. Scott Fitzgerald (here Frankie Key) love story with a dash of "The Great Gatsby" thrown in, "Flappers and Philosophers" and "The Jazz Age" as finishing touches. Which seems awesome, right? This is my time period! My people! I’ve been an amateur expert of the Fitzgeralds for years and have read damned near everything written by/about them, yes, even Zelda’s book, Save Me The Waltz. So I feel a titch qualified to unpack here.

Much like the Austen vs Bronte debacle, there is an argument F. Scott stole Zelda’s inspiration/writings for his books. Strangely, I sit on the fence about this argument as I can see both sides. With that being said, if the argument is to be made Zelda is plagiarized, which this book asserts and to be righted in Speak Easy, it would behoove someone to think Zelda is a fully formed character. But she’s not. She’s a parody, a pastiche of her truthiness and how Valente think of her and how she should be. Yes, yes, it’s a reimagining fairy tale, I know, I know. But I expected — more? Even more specifically, from Valente. It just feels lost and full of filler rather than making the story bloom. More did come, but much later, and not enough to save the book. Valente really gets rip roaring in the last third of the novella. Why couldn’t she have done this in the first 2/3rds?

Valente is telling a story in 100 pages which could easily be condensed into 50. The use of overly-flowery language is too much here! My allergies are overzealously asking for Benadryl. e.g. “Zelda Fair rolled back in the tub, water breaking over her tummy, rolling down her throat. She called him with one crooked finger and the boy in the silver meringue suit skedaddled over on the quick. She crooked her finger again. He bent down. The reek of gin snaked up his nose - she was swimming in the booze supply. Her pearly dress stuck like an oil slick to her breasts; the drying liquor on her shoulders made her skin prickle.”

Yes, Valente is a beautiful writer. Yes, she has an imagination. Yes, she’s got a way with words, but this? This? It just seemed to be a cheap imitation of her talent.
- Told in third person omniscient point of view
- Concept of the origin story between Zelda and F. Scott
- Time period / location
- Last half was really well written, engaging, and thought out

- First 2/3rds is messy; the crux of the story (fairy tale origin story) was lost in the beginning, felt disjointed and half-assed. It’s like she swallowed a metaphor dictionary and vomited up what worked.

While the pros definitely outweigh the cons, sorry kittens, if the story is the meat and if the meat is full of gristle, down goes the rating. ( )
  heroineinabook | Jan 17, 2017 |
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Hey man, how about you rip up that cat with the fluffy tail? If you dry out his guts and twist them up real good you can strum something better than drumming. Don't worry, that cat probably don't mind. Being music is a damn sight better than being a cat. If you put holes in his bones and blow your breath through his death, you can make just the sweetest soud you ever heard. And hoo boy, lookee here, if you eat these berries instead of those, you'll see stars. Stars like being born!
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If you go looking for it, just about halfway uptown and halfway downtown, there's this hotel stuck like a pin all the way through the world. Down inside the Artemisia it's this mortal coil all over. Earthly delights on every floor. The hotel Artemisia sits on a fantastical 72nd Street, in a decade that never was. It is home to a cast of characters, creatures, and creations unlike any other, including especially Zelda Fair, who is perfect at being Zelda, but who longs for something more. The world of this extraordinary novella--a bootlegger's brew of fairy tales, Jazz Age opulence, and organized crime--is ruled over by the diminutive, eternal, sinister Al. Zelda holds her own against the boss, or so it seems. But when she faces off against him and his besotted employee Frankie in a deadly game that just might change everything, she must bet it all and hope not to lose...… (more)

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