“Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses,” by Ron Koertge, is a collection of familiar fairy tales, retold in blank verse with a bent toward the subversive. Beast laments his lost fangs; Red Riding Hood compares being swallowed up inside a wolf to flying coach to Newark; Ella runs away from the ball, leaving the prince “groaning in his purple tights.” The language here is modern, brutal and sharp as a carving knife. The cut-paper silhouette illustrations, rendered by Andrea Dezso in black and red, are haunting and perfect.
Here, it is the emotional lives of Koertge’s characters that provide the element of surprise. In “Bluebeard,” Bluebeard’s newest wife finds herself disturbingly excited by danger. She wonders, in those last moments before her brothers rush in, whether she truly wants to be saved. And Rapunzel’s mother, in “Rapunzel: A Story in Five Parts,” laments asking her husband to steal greens from the witch because she can’t stop wanting everything she can’t have. Koertge is a master at getting to subtle and uncomfortable emotional truths and relaying them in just a few precise lines.