Modern Times: Brilliant short stories with fairy tale absurdity

Cathy Sweeney captures the collision of ordinary human frailty with circumstance

Cathy Sweeney: in her short stories, supernatural physical transformations cover for psychological states. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Cathy Sweeney: in her short stories, supernatural physical transformations cover for psychological states. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Cleaned up for an infant audience, fairy tales have a seamy history. Is the stepmother wicked or really the mother? Is the king who wanted to marry his daughter mad or sane? Nobody rescued Little Red Riding Hood? Did you hear what happened to Sleeping Beauty after she went off with the prince? Who is the wolf anyway?

In its sparseness, astonishments, and cyclical twists, the fairy tale has something in common with the 20th-century European absurd, which follows funny, appalling patterns of repetition. Cathy Sweeney brings together these two traditions in her brilliant debut short story collection, Modern Times.

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