Book Review: Fairy Tale Fail by Mina V. Esguerra
Let me get straight to the point: Fairy Tale Fail is an infuriating novella. Clocking in at 142 pages, it is the worst book I have ever read full stop. In my opinion, it has no value whatsoever to the point that the world can easily find another mediocre writer who can easily replicate Esguerra’s efforts in Fairy Tale Fail. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that said hypothetical writer could do worse than Esguerra in writing this particular book. Do I make sense? Maybe not but forgive me, memories of this particular book can make me incoherent.
Fairy Tale Fail is the story of Ellie Manuel, a twenty-something hopeless romantic who suddenly breaks up with her so-called “Prince Charming” at the beginning of the novella. The break-up was, I admit, brutal. Don, the “Prince Charming”, accompanied Ellie to her favorite church and there begins to chastise her by pointing out her many flaws then nonchalantly breaks up with her like it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. From here, Ellie spends most of her time psychoanalyzing Don’s reasons for breaking up with her and thinking of ways to get him back.
However, while all of this is happening, along comes a spider in the guise of Lucas whom Ellie secretly calls “Rock Star”. Chance encounters between Lucas and Ellie cultivate a friendship between the two with a tinge of casual flirtations and possibilities of escalation. Ellie then becomes stuck between choosing Don or Lucas with her romantic side pining for Don since she believes that Don is her “Prince Charming” while her adventurous side wanting to choose Lucas even though he is less than ideal.
First of all, I fully know that I am not the right audience for this kind of book and that there are a lot of people out there who like Fairy Tale Fail. However, I am not one of those people. Fairy Tale Fail is peppered with faults which outweigh its merits and that reading it made me very critical of its style instead of making me enjoy the story.
One of the many faults of Esguerra’s novella is that Ellie is the bad kind of narrator. She passes herself of as the heroine of the story, the damsel in distress to Don’s Prince Charming, when, in reality, she is an unreliable narrator with a penchant for manipulating her friends. For example, Ellie defends Don’s actions to her friends by telling them that Don had a point and that her friends, who are also his friends, should not give Don a hard time by alienating him. However, I just had this inkling while reading the passage that Ellie was saying all that just to absolve herself of any backstabbing while also having the benefit of hearing bad things being said about her ex. Yes, it was not said explicitly in the novella but it was implied in the writing, something that was being said between the lines, and that implicit meaning felt like that it was due to bad writing and not author’s intent. The author intended Ellie to be a sympathetic character but, for me, she came across as the exact opposite.
The characterization of the protagonists is also weak and flimsy. Instead of making well-balanced characters, the protagonists of the novella are caricatures and exactly what you can expect from typical romantic comedies devoid of any artistic merit. They are deliberately made to be likable with flaws which do not really make the reader hate them but instead make them more likable. Lucas, for example, is enveloped in an air of mystery. He is called “Rock Star” by Ellie and her friends, covered in tattoos, has messy hair, and “had the appearance of a guy forced into crisp shirt and ties to earn a living.” For me, it felt that the descriptions that Esguerra wrote about Lucas were there to replace fleshing him out as if Lucas’ appearance can substitute his actual character. Yes, he was given a back story regarding a pregnant girl friend and rumors about who left who in the relationship but it wasn’t substantial and it felt like a futile attempt for depth because the reader didn’t really care at the beginning whether he left his girlfriend or not. And, as an additional offence to literature, Don is made out to be a complete asshole in accordance to cliché and whose sole purpose in the novella is to make the reader root for Lucas a little bit more.
Not just the characters but everything in the novel is problematic. The dialog is trite and oversimplified; the supporting characters are caricatures doing nothing to further the story; the whole plot requires some suspension of disbelief; and the technique is nonexistent. As a reader, I can do without technique and the suspension of disbelief but this novella just failed on so many levels, on everything in fact, and to have everything in the story working against it is just a home run for bad writing.
Too much optimism is the problem. I have no problem with books that are made to provide happiness to its readers but I just felt that Fairy Tale Fail exceeded escapism and ventured into the realms of delusion, to the literal meaning of the word ‘fairy tale’, and that it blinds the readers from the harsher realities of love. Love stories, for it to work, must have the gravity of tragedy and it can end in two different ways, happy or otherwise. What the tragedy must do is to make defeat brutal or to make victory sweet. In that regard, Fairy Tale Fail did indeed fail because it wasn’t brave enough to take risks and instead settled for mediocrity.