Book Review: The Anchored World, flash fairy tales and folklore by Jasmine Sawers, reviewed by Stephanie Martin

The Anchored World, Jasmine Sawers’ debut collection, uses flash fiction to reimagine classic Eastern and Western fairy tales and folklore that are often much longer than what Sawers’ has written. However, Sawers not only reimagines fairy tales and folklore; they also invent their own along the way. On the surface, Sawers’ collection seems to answer interesting questions like, what if there was an advertisement for poisoned apples? What if endangered animals were shrunken down? Or what would happen if the moon fell from the sky? But we also quickly realize that Sawers’ fictions do so much more than make what was old, new. The collection forces us to grapple with the dangerous effects of love, the ambiguity of right and wrong, the pains of loss, and the realization that racism has deep roots, even in the classic fairy tales that many of us loved as children. To read The Anchored World is to open oneself up to the most beautiful parts of humanity. For instance, nurturing the fallen and protecting a child, while also accepting the pain that accompanies being human, such as losing what you love before it is ever named and having your heritage used against you. Sawers’ collection of flash fiction is powerful and evocative because they don’t strive to reimagine these fairy tales in a light that would make us comfortable; instead, the tales embrace the complexity of what it means to be human, even when it holds an uncomfortably clear mirror up for self-inspection.  

Sawers’ collection features titles that are both alarming and captivating, the titles requiring just as much of our attention as the flash fiction itself. One such title, “All Your Fragile History,” thoughtfully incorporates the second-person point-of-view both in both, inviting us to consider a mixed heritage and accompanying experiences as we read Sawers’ masterfully crafted single sentence story that spans two and a half pages. Another provocative title in their collection is “How to Commit Suicide.” Such a title may seem insensitive at first, but it also demands our attention. Incorporating a second-person point-of-view once again, Sawers juxtaposes a list of instructions alongside harsh statements made by an unnamed character. These statements can at once evoke shame and empathy as they compel us to consider when we have been the unnamed voice and when that unnamed voice has been directed at us. In Sawers’ writing, the magical collides with the mundane in order to subvert the expected and reveal, as Sawers states, “universal human failings.” For instance, “With Appetite” features an adult woman who falls in love with a man who can fit inside a can of Spam. In the story, Sawers writes, “The truth is I was cleaved from my senses when he packed up his Tic Tac suitcase, cleared out his matchbox dresser. What else could I do but seize him where he stood? What would any woman in love do but swallow him whole?” Here, Sawers subverts the expected not only with their language, but they also hold up that reflective surface for us, demanding that we recognize our own “universal human failings,” since hurting the ones we love when they do not love us back is tied so intimately to being human.

While reading Sawers’ flash fiction collection, I was floored by their ability to make me feel deeply for their characters. One flash piece in particular, “Rumpelstiltskin in Pieces,” is half a page long, yet I felt so deeply moved by Sawers’ depiction of the duality that exists in everyone. In the piece, Sawers takes a character that has so frequently been cast as the villain and plunges him into my heart, forcing me to feel his despair as if it were my own. A piece written in the first person, Sawers crafts the voice of Rumpelstiltskin as one filled with bitterness, pain, and longing. And with each painfully descriptive word, I found myself sympathizing with the classic character, which every depiction up to this point tried to convince me was a monster. 

Sawers’ collection holds a unique place in the literary tradition of fairy tales and folklore as it does not present tales that are uncompromisingly moralistic or didactic. Rather, Sawers pays careful attention to the complex emotions that influence human behavior. Sawers’ The Anchored World reimagines and creates fairy tales and folklore that our mixed identity world deserves. Sawers is a lifelong reader of fairy tales, and as someone of mixed heritage who also identifies as queer, they craft their flash fiction to fit in a space that traditional Eastern and Western fairy tales and folklore could never fit in due to their emphasis on “heroes [valuing] honor, cunning, kindness, and, of course, fair skin.” Their collection embodies what these traditional tales could not: what it means to be human.

The Anchored World: Flash Fairy Tales and Folklore, by Jasmine Sawers. Brookline, Massachusetts: Rose Metal Press, October 2022. 88 pages. $15.95, paper.

Stephanie Martin currently attends Winthrop University and is in the second year of her graduate studies in English. 

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