A Review of Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan (Salt Publishing, Cromer, Nofolk, UK, 2014)

Your body is the story of you—its yearnings, fulfilled and otherwise, what you allow it, what others do to it, what you yourself inflict upon it. The stories in The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, Kirsty Logan's first book, dwell in the territory of the body. Though the book's themes are moving and serious, a lively and frank voice lifts the stories from potentially grim territory. The variety in form, from flash fiction and multiple point of view story-sequences, to fairy tale retellings and longer stories clocking in around 15 pages, helps to keep the collection dynamic and delightfully readable. Many of the stories have been published previously and some are award-winners, including the stunning "Witch," noted in Best Lesbian Erotica 2011.

As with classic fairy tales, many of Logan's stories involve transformations—from childhood to adulthood, isolation to intimacy, grief to sublime transcendence. In particular, the stories focus on women's transitions and issues of independence. In "A Skulk of Saints," a lesbian couple await the birth of their child in a camper described as womb-like. In "Witch," a teenager on the cusp of adulthood seeks out Baba Yaga, who turns out to be an attractive and rather artsy woman living life as she wishes, hidden away from the rest of the world. Logan's version of Baba Yaga evokes Dame Ragnelle, who answers the question "What do women want?" with "sovereignty." Other stories show women pursuing, with varying degrees of success, their romantic and sexual independence.

Logan refashions fairy tales for contemporary relevance, complicating the familiar stories and reviving them. In "Witch," the narrator notes of Baba Yaga, "She was the poison apple, the kiss that would wake me." Baba Yaga is at once the disruptive force—the temptation—and the redemption that ushers the protagonist into her new life. Logan retells Cinderella from the point of view of Cinderella's tormentor in "Matryoshka." The narrator, a wealthy princess who objectifies her lady in waiting—the matryoshka doll of the title—is so blinded by her privilege that she interprets her maid's every behavior as an act of devotion.

The quest for intimacy in Logan's stories is often violent and body-shattering—yearning for love hurts, so why not make its story a bloody one? "Coin-Operated Boys" and "The Broken West" in particular reach inside to twist the guts. The title story of the collection documents with anatomical precision the lengths we'll go to in order to protect ourselves from the ravages of heartbreak, while subsisting on a sanitized version of intimacy.

Some of Logan's shorter stories function as beautiful little metaphors that transport the reader to meaning. "The Gracekeeper" depicts a complex vision of mourning as dwelling in the body, in this case the body of a Grace—a bird that houses all of a mourning family's grief, until it dies and the death is forgotten. The story is more complicated than that; these are not merely developing pictures of a clever conceit, but complicated meditations on emotions and our relationship to self, others, the culture, and the community. "Tiger Palace," the closing story, urges a rejection of known stories and their predictable culturally acceptable endings; actors must act out their own stories, write their own endings, for "stories have authority; they cannot just be created from nothing." If we don't author our own stories, we don't exist. In this way, Logan's stories have a real sense of cultural exigence, while at the same time they are always vividly told and wholly entertaining.

Margaret Luongo

About Margaret Luongo

Margaret Luongo's stories have appeared in Tin House, The Cincinnati Review, FENCE, Granta.com, The Pushcart Prize anthology and other publications. In 2008, LSU Press published her first story collection, If the Heart is Lean. She teaches creative writing at Miami University in Ohio.