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Fairy tales reimagined realistically

BY ISAAC HAMLET | MARCH 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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Many authors experience a sort of typecasting. Once they've gotten their start in a specific genre, they can allow that genre to define them, rarely, or never, dabbling in the unknown.

This is a tendency defied by Kate Kasten, an author who has published largely realistic fiction, but in August 2013 released a title veering toward the fantastical, which was met with praise from Kirkus Reviews.

Kasten will appear at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 4 p.m. Saturday to read from her books Better Days and Wildwood: Fairy Tales and Fables Re-Imagined.

Better Days is a novel about a pair of Iowan farmers, the last of many generations to tend their farm.

While writing this book, Kasten sent early drafts to Michele Gerot, a friend of hers who has farmed with her husband for roughly 40 years. Gerot read over the manuscript, offering feedback on how farming was depicted.

"I had a whole page of tiny edits, but she had gotten quite a bit right," Gerot said. "The only thing I really helped with was the timing of when you might plant or take in the crop."

Being a native of Iowa native, Kasten took great care in capturing the authenticity of the setting and the characters who inhabit it.

"I became very attached to the people in Better Days," Kasten said.  "Not only the two main characters, Helen and Cal, who do their best to carry on in the face of family conflicts, illness, and disappointments, but also their nemesis, Nancy Bannister, who is a master at finessing every situation in order to get her way."

Wildwood, as the full title suggests, provides readers with retellings of the fairy tales we've been raised on for centuries.

Given the recent pop-culture trend of readapting classic tales, Kasten makes sure that hers stands out. She uses more archaic language, closer to what one would find in the original tales, and attempts to include lessons significant to both past and present.

"I think Wildwood is quite different from the other books of this kind in that it represents a skeptical attitude toward [fairy tales]," Kasten said. "I remember as a child reading 'Little Red Riding Hood' and thinking, 'Really? A child would mistake a wolf for her grandmother just because it's wearing her bed cap and nightgown?' I was a stickler for realism even then. So all my versions of these tales require the stories to make a certain kind of sense, even though they are fantastical."

Having invested such detail in both pieces, it's not difficult to see why she continues to impress her readers.

Sandra de Helen, who started a woman's theater group and c-wrote a play with Kasten, has read all of her published works and has nothing but praise.

"[Kasten] writes literary fiction, some of the best I've ever read, and I am a voracious reader," de Helen said. "Her work is taut but not spare. Her stories are suspenseful tales of the human condition."


READING
"Live from Prairie Lights," Kate Kasten
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque
Admission: Free


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