Every child hears “Once upon a time” and immediately knows that “happily ever after” is on its way. Snow White is woken up with Prince Charming’s kiss. Ariel gets her legs and her man. Cinderella is reunited with her precious glass slipper and her true love. But what happens when you wander off into your own once upon a time, only to find that Cinderella’s other shoe has dropped on your head? Suddenly you’re sitting on the commuter train, heading into another Monday of sucking down crappy coffee in that tiny office it took you five years of making copies and running office lunch orders to get promoted to.
Now you’re thinking happily ever after might just be for fairy tales after all.
Welcome to the world of Christopher DeWan’s Hoopty Time Machines, a collection of fairy tales for adults that transports you far, far away from “happily ever after” and more towards “moderately satisfying reality.” In forty-five short stories, DeWan takes the hopefulness of a child’s fairy tale and throws it into the adult world, where things don’t always go perfectly wrong -- they just go wrong.
Throughout this collection, DeWan captures how overwhelmed we can feel when we finally stop moving-moving-moving for a few seconds, and he makes us ache over the composition of small moments in our lives that never came to be. In “Sacramento,” he is able, in just one sentence, to break our hearts over all that we never even knew: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into some other one.” His stories examine that moment of escape where readers can imagine all the possibilities of how they want life to be, before they have to face how it actually is.
The real twist of this collection is that in some cases, these characters do reach a point where they can look back and settle into the realization that they are happy, just without taking the exact route they had originally mapped out. DeWan steps away from what children initially believe will make them happy, and instead pulls a more realistic happy ending under the microscope for a closer look.
While children dream of growing up, grown-ups dream to escape it. When the bills start piling up and you’re spending Friday night buried in a stack of paperwork, your idea of happy looks less like true love’s kiss and more like accidentally-on-purpose hitting your snooze button a few more times. Hoopty Time Machines gathers all of these little things and turns them into one big thing -- the mediocre but satisfying grind of reality. Whether it be a day alone, finally getting the baby to fall asleep, throwing out those dusty stacks of magazines, or having the guts to ditch your office job to chase the American Dream, the ending can still be happy, even if it isn’t as grand as you’d imagined as a kid.
These stories show us one of the most valuable lessons when it comes to happy endings: they are rarely free. Even when we make it to our happy endings, it is not because the universe decided to just let everything fall into place. While the characters in Disney movies get to take a nap while they wait for life to work itself out, reality doesn’t work that way. In his short story “Indestructible,” DeWan makes miracles happen when an eight year-old defeats her battle with cancer -- only then, though, does her real-world battle with doctor’s bills begin. He recognizes the reality that you need to fight for any happy ending you get, whether it’s delivery is how you imagined it or not.
Hoopty Time Machines dispels the idea that all happily ever afters are the same, while perfectly amplifying the messiness of life that may not always drive you straight off into the sunset, but will still take you somewhere worthwhile.