T. Coraghessan Boyle on Crimes and Fairy Tales | The New Yorker
your story “princess” reimagines the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as a contemporary home invasion. how did you come up with that idea?
stories are everywhere, springing up like mushrooms after the rain. I had just turned in my next novel and was looking for a story to tell when this one was introduced to me by my sister-in-law, who had a similar experience, in which a girl walked into her house in the middle of the night, turned on the lights, flushed the and she slept in the back bedroom until the police were called to get her out. then my sister-in-law called me and told me the story over the phone, puzzled and relieved and not quite sure what to think. who was this girl what did she want? Why didn’t she take anything? And what happened to the barbecue ribs that she brought with her? As my sister-in-law spoke, I imagined the details: her house, her dogs, her children, the wandering, drug-addicted girl in search of something very similar to what my sister-in-law has created for herself and for herself. family—a home, a true home, a place of refuge and rest. the fairy tale connection came to me in the first line, and I followed it from there. here was the archetypal wanderer looking for something she couldn’t name, and the need for it pushed her to go where she wasn’t wanted.
You tell the story through two voices: the voice of Tanya, a homeless young woman high on meth who feels right at home in someone else’s house; and the voice of dawn, a single mother of two teenagers, who owns the house. why did you choose that alternate structure?
The magic of fiction is that it allows us to project ourselves from the point of view of characters whose perceptions and belief systems are different from our own. It was essential for me to explore Tanya’s psyche, but limiting the action to her point of view would have diminished the story because there would have been no rejection from the victim. What does it feel like when your private space is violated? what is the value of the fence, the gate, the locked gate? if the three bears had hired a locksmith, there would have been no story.
“Princess” involves two crimes: the illegal entry of Tanya and the murder of a girl, whose body is dumped in the park. How do you see these two things, at opposite ends of the spectrum of criminal depravity, playing off each other?
There are degrees of criminality and, of course, the murder of the child is the maximum. Wandering heroines, innocent or not, don’t always escape unscathed or live happily ever after. the forest is dark, deep and menacing, and that menace lies at the heart of the entire corpus of fairy tales and folktales that form the basis of our literature.
Tanya is twenty-two, addicted to drugs, sleeping wherever she can, unable to find enough money to fly home to the East Coast. what do you think draws her back to dawn’s house for the second time?
Just what drew her there initially: that was where she belonged, and she belonged there because she knew the normalcy of that home would have punished her, whether she could have put it out there or not.
Dawn is in a constant battle with her daughter, Tammy. tanya has been more or less disowned by her alcoholic mother. and the only other girl in the story is a murder victim. You don’t paint a very pretty picture of American childhood or motherhood in “Princess.” Are you as pessimistic as history?
I can’t decide if I’m an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist. but really, I’m just following the story on a thematic level, and of course the reader can see how the mother and daughter situations mirror each other. once again, there are gradations here: the normal teen rebellion, as opposed to a more extreme variety, and the very grim way those rebellions can be resolved by the real world. Does the darkness swallow the light? turn on the news channel, read the newspaper: you tell me. ♦