I’m so sorry if you’ve never read The Toast. Truly, I am. The online publication co-founded by Mallory Ortberg (who has recently announced their transition to “Daniel”) occupied a delicious and unspoiled sliver of feminist internet space — where jokes about Shirley Jackson and Rebecca lived alongside fantasies about healthy romantic relationships with celebrities like Kristin Stewart, John Cho, and Stanley Tucci (you know your dad would love whenever you brought your boyfriend Stanley Tucci over). The site is no longer active, but fortunately for all of us, Ortberg still is.
In The Merry Spinster, a collection of stories based on classic fairy tales, Ortberg dances between stories of love and malice with a tone equal parts playful and sadistic. This version of The Velveteen Rabbit is a twisted progression of greed; their Wind in the Willows is unspeakably unsettling. If you’ve ever laughed in a horror movie because your body isn’t sure how to appropriately react, you’ll be familiar with the impulses you’ll feel while reading The Merry Spinster. As in their first book, Texts From Jane Eyre, Ortberg cuts down to the center of beloved cultural narratives to reveal a bloody, beating heart that was there all along.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were there any specific tropes in fairy tales or children’s stories that you were particularly interested in subverting?
ORTBERG: I don’t know that I had a special interest in subverting anything. I think sometimes there’s this sort of idea that older stories or fairy tales are fro