A beautifully written memoir-in-essays on fairy tales and their surprising relevance to modern life, from a Jewish woman raising Black children in the American South—based on her acclaimed Paris Review column “Happily”
“One of the most inventive, phenomenally executed books I’ve read in decades.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
The literary tradition of the fairy tale has long endured as the vehicle by which we interrogate the laws of reality. These fantastical stories, populated with wolves, kings, and wicked witches, have throughout history served as a template for understanding culture, society, and that muddy terrain we call our collective human psyche. In Happily, Sabrina Orah Mark reimagines the modern fairy tale, turning it inside out and searching it for the wisdom to better understand our contemporary moment in what Mark so incisively calls “this strange American weather.”
Set against the backdrop of political upheaval, viral plague, social protest, and climate change, Mark locates the magic in the mundane and illuminates the surreality of life as we know it today. She grapples with a loss of innocence in “Sorry, Peter Pan, We’re Over You,” when her son decides he would rather dress up as Martin Luther King, Jr., than Peter Pan for Halloween. In “The Evil Stepmother,” Mark finds unlikely communion with wicked wives and examines the roots of their bad reputation. And in “Rapunzel, Draft One Thousand,” the hunt for a wigmaker in a time of unprecedented civil unrest forces Mark to finally confront her sister’s cancer diagnosis and the stories we tell ourselves to get by.
Revelatory, whimsical, and utterly inspired, Happily is a testament to the singularity of Sabrina Orah Mark’s voice and the power of the fantastical to reveal essential truths about life, love, and the meaning of family.
Sabrina Orah Mark is an award-winning fiction writer and poet who has written the column “Happily” for The Paris Review since 2018. She is the author of Wild Milk, a collection of fiction, as well as two collections of poetry, The Babies and Tsim Tsum. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband, Reginald McKnight, and their two sons.
“With milk teeth, bread crumbs, pebbles, and tears, Sabrina Orah Mark illumines the outermost expanses of motherhood’s chaos, cruelty, and love. She confidently wields the weird logic of the fairy tale; bewitched, I didn’t even try to distinguish the real from the unreal. I just wanted to follow this thrillingly distinctive book wherever it went.”—Sarah Manguso, author of Very Cold People
“Who is this stunning sorceress of love and lightness and language wrapped around the heavy? We are so lucky to have her to consider the world with us. This book is going onto my fairy-tale class syllabus pronto but beyond the tales it’s also such a powerful investigation of motherhood, of personhood, chock-full of truly amazing associations. A keeper.”—Aimee Bender, author of The Color Master and The Butterfly Lampshade
“Sabrina Orah Mark’s lapidary sentences hitched together can make us understand fairy tales better but not by any means so obvious as explaining them. These are fairy tales that are essays on fairy tales but also incantations, confessions, news analysis, personal history, and reminders that fairy tales are dainty things capable of doing a lot of heavy lifting of the contents of our imaginations and the aches of our hearts. Which is my long-winded way of saying: Amazing! Gorgeous! Read this!”—Rebecca Solnit, author of Waking Beauty and Men Explain Things to Me
“You will remember the day, hour and minute you finish Happily. And it might remember you. Magic does live here. Sabrina Orah Mark has actually remade our childhoods by taking so seriously the world we’ve made as adults. Easily one of the most inventive, phenomenally executed books I’ve read in decades.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
“Happily . . . is a bubbling cauldron filled with ingredients as diverse as parenting and premonitions, mythological creatures and marriage, mothers and sons and fairies and witches, and always there is magic. . . . Mark’s essays . . . often [end] somewhere far from where the reader may have expected; however, it is always exactly as it should be.”—Shelf Awareness
“Each [essay] sums up a different fairy tale, or set of tales, making clever, lyrical, sometimes-disturbing connections . . . Sprinkle these clever essays like breadcrumbs through the forest of your days.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[Sabrina Orah] Mark writes with profound curiosity, attentive awe, and a poet’s magnifying vision. Seamlessly, [her] imagination makes new the ancient and oft-told.”—Booklist
“In her probing memoir-in-essays, Mark uses fairy tales as framing devices to unpack a range of topics including motherhood, marriage, racism, and mortality. . . . Mark’s sharp analysis captures the ‘cultural resilience’ of fairy tales, and her writing hums with lyrical self-reflection. . . . Readers will find this full of insight.”—Publishers Weekly