Michael Cunningham’s collection of short stories draws on more than one magical tale. The title story is, obviously a reference to the twelve swans and deals with the prince who is left with one wing. However, the collection runs far deeper than that.
Fairy tales show us what is in terms of what could have been. They teach or show truths in ways that are easier to deal with. Cunningham knows this, and he knows what drives us to read the gossip stories. His first story, “Dis. Enchant” illustrates this.
While the twelve swans story is the title story and deals with the after, the best stories are “Ever/After” and “Steadfast: Tin”. Both deal with marriage and idea of what happy ever after means. Another powerful and haunting story is Cunningham’s adaption of “The Monkey’s Paw”. Of a more, what if feel is “Jacked” about Jack the Giant Killer and “Little Man” which is about a certain spinner. “Poisoned” puts a new spin on sexual play.
The stories work because Cunningham focus on that after, which in many cases is the most potentially disturbing parts of the story, but they can also be the hopeful and profound. Like these stories in this collection.