NovelReads: The Cleaners By Ken Liu

BY CLAIRE WU

This week on #NovelReads, our book reviewers had a royal time reading "Dorothy Must Die", a twisted tale about witchcraft, alternate worlds, and fated romance.


All opinions expressed in this review are the author's only, and do not in any way represent NM.


"The Princess and the Pea" is a classic tale about a prince trying to find a real princess to marry that will be able to cure his loneliness. One night, after many fruitless searches, a girl who claims to be a princess arrives at his castle, asking for shelter from a terrible storm outside. The prince's mother decides to place a pea under her twenty-mattress bed to test if she is a true princess, for one of royal blood would be able to feel discomfort from the tiny pea. Lo and behold, the girl is as sensitive as a princess should be, and reports a bad night of sleep the next morning; she gets married with the prince afterwards.


In some interpretations, the princess's sensitivity represents the depth of her compassion and her authenticity, which is what Liu plays off of in his retelling. In his short story, there are three main characters, each with their own special abilities, in a modern setting with fantasy elements. Gui is a professional cleaner that wipes away layers of unpleasant memories that fester on personal objects, but he can't feel these wounds left behind. Clara is the sister to Beatrice, who works in a factory for phone-cleansing and has a frosty relationship with Beatrice, a lawyer who specializes in using her power to retrieve memories by touch. When their paths collide, who knows how their lives will be irreversibly changed forever?


The Cleaners is a part of the Faraway series, made up of five authors including Gayle Forman and Soman Chainani who each wrote their take on a fairytale. This short story was written by Ken Liu, who is an accredited American author of speculative fiction who has also published The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and The Legend of Luke Skywalker. That being said, I had pretty high expectations going into the book and was left not quite satisfied. The web between the three characters wasn't woven as tightly as I would have preferred, especially since the story was already very short. It was structured a little bit too punctually for my taste too, with the chapters titled by the name of the character who would be taking their turn to speak from their point of view. It started to feel like a checklist, rather than a naturally flowing sequence of events. But, that being said, there is plenty of food for thought in this book left for the reader to interpret and digest by themselves, which makes it a good book to return to from time to time.

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