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Danielle Wood: Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales For Girls

Most single-author short-story collections don't read particularly well as thematically cohesive books; all too often, they just collect random diversions and previously published projects into a neatly resaleable package, good for a stopgap or a profits boost between an author's full-length books. Australian author Danielle Wood doesn't exactly reinvent the form with Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales For Girls, but she neatly dodges those usual pitfalls by tying together her stories through the titular character, a self-possessed journalist who pops up in mid-tale—hers and other characters'—to share her own experiences, thoughts, and associated entertaining trivia. The results are quirky and playful, sort of a girl-power Lemony Snicket collection, albeit with significantly less comic miserablism.

At least apart from the first story, in which Rosie loses her virginity at age 14 to her drunken host at a crude dockside party. The humiliating, crass specifics mix entertainingly with Rosie's after-the-fact analysis of her own naïve mindset at the time, with a concentration on language: how flowery Latin words like "fellatio" (which "could lead the uninitiated to envisage something ornate, baroque even") and repeated viewings of Les Liasions Dangereuses failed to prepare her for the sight of an erect penis. In spite of the characteristically humorous, discursive, mindfully abstract musings on male genitals and Latin, "The Deflowering Of Rosie Little" is one of the collection's weaker, less pointedly insightful stories, though it sets an entertainingly self-aware tone that continues throughout.

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In theory, each story is a cautionary tale on a single subject, a modern scary-fairy tale in which abusive men and unthinking women replace Brothers Grimm-era wolves and witches, and urban jungles stand in for shadowy woods. The schadenfreude story "Vision In White" ostensibly warns girls about marriage, for instance, though it's really more about the dangers of being a glory-crazed bride, determined to extend that special day by wearing a wedding gown on a post-ceremony international flight. "The Anatomy Of Wolves" is listed as a cautionary tale about love, though it's more about the dangers of clinging to a controlling partner. The stories aren't always on point, but they're often funny, and they add up to a sort of primer for a peculiar life. Vaguely mythic tone and Rosie's ruminative Mother Goose interludes aside, Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales For Girls is a modern collection for the kind of girls who wish chick-lit protagonists were generally cleverer, had more diverse interests, and could discourse on "nominative determinism" with a (relatively) straight face.

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