True Loaf: A Balkan Folklore Inspired Short Story

3 Stars

This story started off okay. It had some nice setup, strange gruff man demands an item. Girl goes into woods to find the item to carry out request. On the surface most of this story makes sense. There’s nothing really too out of the ordinary for a fairy-tale dark, light, or in-between. The problem here is there are zero answers. Like we know in snow white in all the versions, someone is jealous and wants to be the most fair and thus must get rid of Snow White. Hansel and Gretel get sent into the forest because their parents can’t afford to take care of them, the little mermaid, Disney version, just wants to be human. Then there’s the Tell Tale Heart, and other classics I read during English lit classes, the best part of my college years, but the point is I can’t think of a short story that doesn’t have a clear direction. Even the gingerbread man who ultimately gets eaten by the sly fox is very clear cut. You know what it’s about and even if you didn’t the ending makes it make sense. This story did not have any of that.

Why did the man storm in and demand something he knew wouldn’t be there? Why did the clerk just comply without the type of incentive found in practically every short story? They almost never just say yes so this was strange. What happened in the woods was not so strange. Just typical short fantasy fair and you knew where it was going the moment the plot reveal happened which, for a short story, is fine. What you don’t know usually is how it will pay off. This brings us back to the main point of no clear direction. There’s a fight, some sort of unknown challenge. Then it’s over and… Okay… what happened? There is zero explanation for anything.

The shop clerk has no motivation to go into the forest other than to get an ingredient she doesn’t have for a bread she doesn’t have to make. The man didn’t threaten or coerce her in any way. All he did was have an attitude and say he’ll be back. Then we never really know the importance of ingredients and why it grows in two colours and effects the consumers differently. We don’t know why there’s a need for a duel other than it would be fun to write one. Who are these brothers? Where did they come from and why out of all the corner shops did they choose this one and this girl? The author even says the prince doesn’t explain anything at the end which was a clear sign this story probably wasn’t supposed to have an obviously laid out focus to begin with.

It’s just everything from the pied piper to Mary Shelly’s Mortal Immortal and other’s don’t take much work to decipher what’s going on. It’s hard to be confused by almost all fairy tales because the motivations, actions within, and ultimate tie up at the end explain everything. This story, however, as I have already said, didn’t explain its purpose in any way. It just sort of happened. When I reached the end I was ready for a big monologue because it was the only way to tie up the tale. Since not much was explained during it the ending had to do all the manual labour. Which is fine. As far as short stories go this wouldn’t be the first one where a quick but informative ending made the entire tale make sense. But this did not happen.

Ultimately the ending undid this book. After reading the story, getting invested in the journey, and waiting for the big payoff, and ‘ah ha’ moment where it all pulls itself together, not getting it left an, ‘well that was interesting but why’ sort of feeling.

That’s my takeaway here. It was well written, fun at times, and had the foundation for something great but it needed a few more pages within the story to make it work. Even a slightly longer ending that explained all the details previous would’ve made this book great. However, as interesting as it was, without a clear reason for the main characters to do what they did, and without the ending tie-up this read like a series of events that just happened which is great but ultimately will leave you wanting to know more instead of that fulfilling feeling you usually get at the end of a good happy or dark fairy tale/short story.

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