Fiction: “Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Erica (of NYC Bookworm) and I finished reading Egg & Spoon early last month, so at least I’m within the 30 day mark for being behind.

egg and spoon

Egg & Spoon is the story of Elena and Cat, two Russian girls from very different lives. Elena is the youngest daughter of a very poor family, whereas Cat (short for Katerina) is the daughter of very rich parents who leave her with her very old aunt, Sophie. Cat, Sophie, and the rest of her retinue are traveling to St. Petersburg to meet the prince when their train comes upon a broken bridge that needs repairing, just outside of Elena’s village. Elena, who had never seen a train before, goes to see the spectacle and meets Cat, and the two become … not friends, but they share things about each other and tell each other stories.

One of the stories comes from a book of Cat’s – one about Baba Yaga, the mythical witch. Elena has her own opinions of Baba Yaga, but Kat dismisses them. In return, Cat shows Elena a Fabergé Egg that she and her Aunt Sophie are going to present to the Prince.

Well, one day, they’re sitting in the train – Cat’s holding onto the Fabergé Egg, Elena’s holding Cat’s storybook – and then the train jumps to a start. Cat falls off the train, leaving Elena behind.

And here is where the two characters make the first of many defining decisions. Elena decides to remain on the train instead of running after her friend – because the train is going to St. Petersburg, and now she has the opportunity to ask the Tsar to release her brothers from military duties and return to their home in the village. But instead of identifying herself and her needs right away, she instead decides to take advantage of her physical similarity and pretends to be Kat on the rest of her journey.

Cat, meanwhile, decides to follow the train tracks to St. Petersburg so she can return the Fabergé Egg and reunite with her Aunt. Except that on the way there, she gets chased away from the tracks and ends up in a strange hut that walks on chicken legs with a talking cat and owned … by Baba Yaga.

Now, Baba Yaga is not, at first sight, a hideously scary creature as the fairy tales would have us believe. Erica’s vision of her as Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone is so on point, I can barely stand it. As I said in my tweet to her (which I will now paraphrase because it’s been so long, my tweets during the Tweetversation have disappeared into the ether, only to be discovered five years from now after I get tapped as the next host of The Daily Show), I knew I saw Baba Yaga as something like that in my head, but as soon she said that, it immediately clicked and that’s exactly how I pictured her; I just hadn’t found the right words.

I liked that the plot didn’t devolve into a rote Prince and the Pauper-esque routine. In fact, the way the characterization went, the reader was made to feel sympathy for Elena – think that she was going to be the protagonist, that we were going to root for her journey – but as the book progressed, Elena became less sympathetic: more sarcastic, sullen, and not quickly willing to revert to Elena as opposed to Cat. Whereas Cat quickly became very sympathetic – she worked with both Baba Yaga and the Prince in order to rescue Russia.

Because yes, Russia is dying – there’s a whole subplot about Baba Yaga, the Firebird, an Ice Dragon, and the Fabergé Egg. The Egg is decorated with the above-mentioned items, but halfway through the book the Firebird disappears from the Egg. So then Baba Yaga, the talking cat, Cat, Elena, and the Prince journey up to Siberia and find out that the Ice Dragon has been awake longer than he should be, because Russia’s seasons are determined by when the Ice Dragon sleeps and when the Ice Dragon is awake.

The novel is written in a very specific style – Mr. Maguire definitely holds to the tone of a typical fairy tale or myth story. There are mystical elements – namely, the Firebird – but overall, the story doesn’t descend into a typical supernatural story. I’m not sure whether to put this into a fantasy genre or the young adult genre, because it’s not really either. It was pretty good, however.

Ugh, I have got to get better at this! It’s been so long since I’ve read it that I can’t really compliment it the way that I want to. I’ve been fascinated by Russia since watching Anastasia (no, you shut up, this is my warped childhood, not yours!), and I really liked the descriptions of St. Petersburg and the Ice Dragon. I loved the conceit of making Baba Yaga an anachronistic, humorous version of what Mother Russia should be; I loved the talking cat. I liked the relationship between Cat and Prince Anton, and I liked how both of them wanted to subvert their traditional roles and pursue their own dreams.

Oh my god – I just now realized that if I had been better at this, I would have been able to make a whole analogy between Elena and Cat and Elena and Katherine from The Vampire Diaries. I mean, I haven’t watched that show in two years, but I’m sure I could have made something out of it.

Okay, I’ve now finished watching the fourth season of Bob’s Burgers, and Mad Men returns in a hour and a half, and I have ruined my chances of making deadline on That Thing I Keep Obliquely Mentioning, but rest assured, That Thing is what’s coming up next, and it will be a doozy.

Grade for Egg & Spoon: 3 stars

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