Women take all

A Nov­el Idea’s Christi­na Rosso launch­es her debut book She is a Beast’

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Author Christina Rosso-Schneider and her dog Atticus Finch celebrate her debut story collection, ‘She is a Beast,’ at A Novel Idea on Passyunk. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
Author Christina Rosso-Schneider and her dog Atticus Finch celebrate her debut story collection, ‘She is a Beast,’ at A Novel Idea on Passyunk. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

There are no princes in Christina Rosso-Schneider’s debut collection of fairy tales, She is a Beast—at least not princes who come to the rescue. In these six stories, women rescue themselves from situations ranging from the dull and grim to the abusive and terrifying.

In “Killing the Beast,” a repurposing of “Beauty and the Beast,” a woman flees a marriage to an older, lecherous man. “This would not be a life, but a cage,” she says of her upcoming marriage, only to find herself imprisoned by a literal beast who intends to eat her. True love and transformation are not on the table.

Marriage is the ticket out for a calculating and gimlet-eyed Cinderella in the chilly and humorous “A Husband by Midnight.” Though no beasts feature in this story, Rosso-Schneider nicely flips the damsel-in-distress trope with lines such as “When it comes to finding a husband you must have the mindset of a hunter stalking its prey.” Cinderella’s desperate ruthlessness and deadline gave me insight into the equally strategic ladies fighting for survival in another “modern-day fairy tale,” The Bachelor.

Embracing wildness

The author reimagines four famous fairy tales and spins two of her own. “The Siren of Wailing Lake” and “Becoming a Beast” take the themes of empowerment and transformation full-circle by having the women embrace their wildness and become beasts themselves, experiencing the freedom and power that, we can imagine, all beasts feel.

Rosso-Schneider’s prose is rhythmic and graphic in its descriptions and images. Accompanied by Jeremy Gaulke’s illustrations, the pieces are short screams of rage at the dehumanization of women, and are immensely satisfying when characters exact their deserved and often brutal revenge.

Belle, The Bloody Chamber, and beasts

Rosso-Schneider was a lover of fairy tales as a child (with a particular fondness for fellow reader and intellectual Belle of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), but she got to grad school before discovering British author Angela Carter’s landmark collection of adult fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories, and realizing these stories could be recontextualized and reimagined to explore gender, sexuality, and identity.

“I think that when we’re looking at fairy tales, whether the Disney or the earlier versions, women are often only given specific options,” Rosso-Schneider, who publishes as Christina Rosso, told BSR. “They’re either young, virginal, and beautiful or older, ugly, and evil. It doesn’t allow for these women to be layered as human beings are. That’s something that I’m always thinking about in my work with fairy tales, and in general—how can I present a real, living, breathing person who’s complex?”

The inherent darkness and horror present in the older versions of fairy tales also gave Rosso-Schneider license to explore trauma and question the idea of a traditional happy ending. “I love writing these women who get to have their version of a happy ending in which they’re free and they’re safe,” she says. “The fairy-tale genre allows me more imagination in terms of how they get to that point and to talk about issues of domestic and sexual violence toward women while allowing us to take a step back. Because these [stories] aren’t the world that we live in; they just might have some elements and experiences from it.”

A haven for locals

Originally set to debut on March 21, She is a Beast was pushed back to May 2 due to COVID-19. Amid canceled events and interviews, Rosso-Schneider is practical. “You can still promote the book and you have an added incentive for people to buy it—to help support you, your small business, and the small business of APEP Publications.”

Rosso-Schneider’s small business is the South Philly bookstore and event space A Novel Idea on Passyunk, which she co-owns with her husband, Alexander Schneider. The store opened a year and a half ago (BSR covered its December 2018 launch), and when the pandemic hit, the owners had just hired a part-time employee, allowing them to take some much-needed time off.

“That was a huge step for us because for the first 13 months we were open it was just Alex and me working sometimes 13-plus-hour days,” recalls Rosso-Schneider.

Their success is allowing them to become more selective about their event roster, but A Novel Idea has remained a haven for local authors and small-press publishers. The owners have continued their commitment to local and small businesses, who produce the majority of their non-book products.

Buying at Novel Idea

On the shelves, “We’re really starting to get a sense of what our customers want and what we might be able to slip in to experiment with,” Rosso-Schneider says. That includes expanding their offerings of one of her interests, occult books and events, which they began to lean into a few months after opening.

“I don’t know how it’s possible because I felt so supported in our first year, but I feel like our community continues to grow and shower us with support and love, so that’s been really wonderful,” she says.

That support extends to economic relief. The store has not received government funding, was denied several loans and grants, and the owners are not taking salaries. They have a GoFundMe page, and while the store itself is temporarily closed, it’s holding events online, fulfilling special orders, and taking online orders from its current inventory, including She is a Beast.

What, When, Where

She is a Beast. By Christina Rosso. Chewsville: APEP Publications, May 2, 2020. 56 pages, saddle stitched. $18.00. Get it here or here.

A Novel Idea on Passyunk, 1726 E Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia. (267) 764-1202 or anovelideaphilly.com.

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