In Blue Beyond Blue, Lauren Slater takes a novel approach to the power of story, introducing the concept of narrative therapy. Narrative therapy uses written stories to address and heal personal conflicts, an ever more effective analytic tool because words have extraordinary power in our lives, transformative, shaming, uplifting or memorable.
In her introduction, Slater speaks of "externalization", the process of separating the person from the problem, giving the problem its own existence so that it can be dealt with: "patients come face to face with the subjugating language and plot points typically given to problems.” Facing the blank page, the challenge is to find the words to expose and exorcise personal demons, a daunting task, but one with manifold benefits.
Slater goes one step further, into the magic realm of fairy tales, but she rejects Bruno Bettelheim's Freudian approach of decades past as too limited, the reference too rigidly analytical, although she applauds their potential for healing. One only has to peruse The Annotated Brothers Grimm to see that fairy tales were never meant only for children, but as folklore and social commentary, passed from one generation to the next.
Slater's collection of fairy tales explores the complicated dynamics of family, moral issues and the inconsistencies of romantic love. The small, provocative stories are couched in the language of fable but based in the resolution of conflict, fierce and graphic.
In "Blue Beyond Blue" a mother cuts off her daughter's wings to keep her near; "The Gun" is a beautifully disguised metaphor for the evolution of a changing female identity; in "A Daughter's Tale," a Chinese princess is born to a mother who will not bind her daughter's feet in the traditional manner; and "Ruby Red" exposes the motives of Snow White's wicked stepmother, injecting elements of family dysfunction far beyond a sleeping princess waiting for the kiss of her Prince Charming.
Mother-daughter relationships, the ambiguities of sexual identity, familiar archetypes turned unrecognizable, all are folded into magical fables that spill from the pages of Blue Beyond Blue, humankind in all its splendor and depravity, differences fraught with emotional pain and isolation. A fairy tale has the power to transcend the murky world of the subconscious, experience writ in a more manageable form, not unlike dancing with our nightmares with the light on.
Slater's fairy tales project the essence of womanhood, stories with a uniquely female perspective, the ties that bind and sever, the bonds of blood that define a woman to herself and in the world. Such fables can be wielded like garden tools to till the soil of memory, pulling weeds out by their roots so that healthy plants may bloom. In graphic prose, with color a metaphor for feelings, these lyrical tales are seeded with wisdom and imagination: "it is memory, not magic that brings comfort.”