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The Hits and Misses of “That Way Madness Lies”: A Collection of Spell-Binding Shakespearean Retellings


R E V I E W – B O O K


Tasmim Kheya


After the success with her collection of re-imagined stories from Edgar Allan Poe’s His Hideous Heart, Dahlia Adler published her second anthology collection this year. The second book That Way Madness Lies is a collection of Shakespeare’s retelling by various young-adult authors. I am a fan of re-imagination of classics, be it mythological stories or Shakespeare plays, so I went into this collection with hope. Although some of the stories were not the best use of creativity, most were pleasant surprises.

The first one in the collection, “Severe Weather Warning” is a re-imagining of The Tempest. To call it severely underwhelming will be an understatement. Opening the anthology with the least creative work, in my opinion, is lowering the readers’ expectations. The authors in charge of retelling The Tempest could have chosen to work with any of the whimsical aspects of the play, instead of centering the drama around two siblings the readers do not care much for.

The next story “Shipwrecked” is a retelling of Twelfth Night. The original play centers around the chaos that ensues when twin siblings Viola and Davis are mistaken to be of different gender. The confusion regarding gender placement creates an opportunity to include a cast diverse in gender and sexuality. The author who wrote “Shipwrecked” grabbed that chance and utilised this opportunity to create a situation where Viola’s character gets mistaken for her twin. This happens not because she is cross-dressed, but because the character dressed as their non-binary self. Although the inclusivity in the cast had been refreshing, the story itself fell flat in its execution.

“Taming of the Soulmate” is the third story in the collection, obviously a re-imagination of one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies of all time, Taming of the Shrew. The best retelling of this play is, of course, the movie adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You, starring Heath Ledger. But the author of “Taming of the Soulmate” took me by surprise. I was not expecting the story to take place in an alternate universe. The element of surprise along with a good execution of the hate-to-love trope made for a promising story.

The fourth story of the collection is “The King of Fairies” by Anne Marie McLemore, a queer and diverse retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although the second story in the book also attempted to diversify the cast, it lacked nuance. Whereas in this one, the author starts her story after the events in the original play had already happened. A Midsummer Night’s Dream had already been a whimsical story with fairies and the promise of mischief, but dealing with gender and racial identity while maintaining the atmosphere speaks volumes for Anne Marie McLemore’s mastery over storytelling. The prose was a delight to read, which is rare in most YA fiction. If there is one author whose work I will binge read after this, it will be hers.

The later installment in this anthology is supposed to be a retelling of As You Like It, which tries to include themes like absent parents and obsession. But “We Have Seen Better Days” being a re-imagination of the Shakespearean play seems like a far-fetched idea, as the only resemblances in the story are the names and a case of an absent parent.

The sixth one is a sci-fi retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, perfectly harnessing the energy of witty bickering between the main characters. A Shakespearean story set in space sounds outlandish, yet it holds so much potential. That is where the beauty of Shakespeare’s works lie. They are not stuck in the olden eras, the stories are made for re-imagining them in new ways. The author captures the spirit of this play perfectly, including a diverse cast full of space theater crew and building around the fake-dating trope.

The seventh story is a retelling of The Merchant of Venice, from Shylock’s point of view. While the concept is not an extraordinarily unique one, the execution makes up for that. The horrors of antisemitism are the main theme in Dahlia Adler’s “I Bleed”. The story takes place in a high school setting and Shy (Shylock) is the one the readers sympathise with. Reversing the scorn the Jewish character received in the original play had been the author’s intention. Incorporating Jewish scriptures with the original story line of the play had been a clever nod to her roots, and certainly created more impact towards achieving her goal through storytelling.

After the first 7 re-telling of Shakespeare’s comedies, the later section moves on to a work inspired by his sonnet. “His Invention” is a gothic re-imagination of Sonnet-147 by Brittany Cavallaro. After writing her “A Study In Charlotte series”, the author has already established her reputation as a mystery-thriller writer. Her piece in this anthology reflects her mastery over writing short stories with psychological elements in it. The story captures the emotions that Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things evokes, but in a shorter space. Incorporating gothic atmosphere with thriller-like elements in a Shakespeare retelling is a unique take, certainly something the literary world needs more of.

The tragedies’ section starts with a retelling of arguably the most famous tragedy of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. A story told solely through text threads seems like a recipe for disaster, but Kiersten White makes it work. In her version, “Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow”, the young star-crossed couple is portrayed as what they are in truth: young and dumb. The fact that Romeo and Juliet were a couple of over-eager teenagers who only left casualties in their trail in their quest for puppy love, gets obscured for over romanticisation of the original play. This modern retelling of the tragedy gives the side characters a larger role to play, and through their perspective it is easy to sense how inconsiderate Romeo and Juliet’s actions were.

Incorporating the unique form of storytelling method with crisp dialogues made this story a fun one to read. Well, as fun as reading a tragedy can get. But that’s where the fun of re-telling lies. We all know what’s going to happen in the end, yet the authors keep us hooked with their little twists and turns.

Another extremely well written piece here is “Dreaming of the Dark” by Lindsay Smith. It is a Julias Caesar retelling, but this time it has a coven of witches instead of a government body. The horror elements create the perfect setting for a story on betrayal for power and revenge.

Next one of Shakespear’s tragedies, Coriolanus, had been re-imagined in a hood setting. After getting assassinated, the protagonist Cory Lanez’s story gets told through interviews of people who were close to him. Using interviews as a storytelling method is an appropriate choice in this case, where the story is supposed to be of a public figure. There is also a very brief mention of homophobia, but re-imagining the tragedy of Coriolanus as that of a rising Black artist provides fresh perspective to the readers.

“Out of the storm”, a retelling of King Lear, also uses a different format for storytelling. The author tells the story of three sisters in the format of the original play, using their dynamic to form a depiction of female solidarity instead of them bringing each other down as seen in King Lear. Although the idea had been impressive, the execution does not hit the mark the other tragedy re-telling in this collection have set.

The Hamlet retelling reveals itself to be a vampire story in the beginning. The whole story references Bram Stoker’s Dracula, intertwining scenes from his book with Hamlet’s story line. Although a vampire re-telling of Shakespeare might sound ridiculous in theory, Patrice Caldwell in “Elsinore” creates an imminently enjoyable experience for the reader through this sapphic vampire retelling.

The last retelling of tragedy in this collection had been Macbeth’s. “We Fail” includes themes like miscarriage and grief in the story where the morally grey protagonist gets closer to insanity in each step. This rendition of Macbeth set in a high school was not the most unique plot device, but how Samantha Mabry utilises the hints at Lady Macbeth’s miscarriage in the original play to incorporate such elements in this retelling gives the story a newer perspective.

The collection ends with an adorable romance retelling by Melissa Bashardoust. “Lost Girl” is a re-imagination of The Winter’s Tale. It is held to be one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ because of its too many elements and inconsistent tone. The author chose to interpret it as a romance. Including different ethnicities along with nudges to various mythologies made the story fun to read.

Overall, this collection has been impressive. In addition to this collection serving as a gateway to reading more short stories, it also introduced me to a plethora of potential favourite writers. For both Shakespeare enthusiasts who want to dip into the world of YA, or YA readers who want to explore the works of Shakespeare, That Way Madness Lies will not disappoint.

 


Tasmim spends all her time listening to true crime podcasts. Send her killer ideas at [email protected]

 

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