Blonde on Escape Pod

“When did you go bald?”
Only Clarice would ask such a forthright question.
“Leave her alone,” Jake drains his beer. Only he would dare contradict his sister.
The clock hands have gone from late at night to early in the morning. Jake’s bar is empty of customers. The staff, who are sitting round the table, fall silent, intent on their drinks.
“It’s okay,” Rapunzel says. “I was sick and it all fell out.”
Her scalp is shiny, every follicle devoid of life. Nor does she have any eyebrows. Or hair elsewhere for that matter.
“What colour was it?”
There’s a pause, then laughter.
Jake nudges her. “You’re a joker after all.”
She knows what he thinks of her. That she’s vague and evasive and hasn’t a clue what’s going on most of the time.
“Lucky you’re beautiful enough to be bald,” he adds.
Rapunzel touches the nape of her neck where she feels most exposed and tries not to smile.

From “Blonde”

This story originally appeared in Issue 250 of Interzone Issue in 2015. It’s now available on Escape Pod, as text and audio.

It’s narrated by Mur Lafferty and hosted by co-editor S.B. Divya

I dislike fairy tales, which long ago lost any worthwhile cultural resonance. Due, no doubt, to the ceaseless commercialization a la Disney princesses and a million other Hollywood sins, all of which removed the bloody edge of birth and death from what were once tales imparting life lessons across generations. When I see a fairy tale these days I run the other way unless convinced otherwise by someone whose judgement I trust.

And I trust the storytelling judgement of Priya Sharma. Which is why I read her new brilliant new short story “Blonde” in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Interzone.

“Blonde” is a retelling of the traditional Rapunzel fairy tale. Yet instead of being trapped in a mythical tower in a forest, here the titular character is thrown into a dystopian modern world of poverty and criminals and starvation and life among the ruins. In Sharma’s retelling — which can be read equally as science fiction or fantasy — Rapunzel’s ever-growing locks are valuable solely because they’re blonde, an almost mystical hair color which has nearly passed from the human gene pool. But humanity’s fixatation on blond hair is in no way healthy, as Rapunzel discovers to her horror.

“Blonde” is a gripping, eerie, well-written tale with the most compelling Rapunzel I’ve ever read. And unlike any Disney reworking of the fairy tale, this story retains its razor-slice edge as it presents a thought-provoking examination of the stereotypes and beliefs which influence the world around us.

I’ve long loved Sharma’s stories — for my money she’s one of the most underappreciated short fiction writers in the SF/F genre. She’s also one of the few writers who could convince me to take a chance on a fairy tale retelling. In this case I’m glad I did.

Review by Jason Sandford


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