Behind The Stories

Zoe Chace Found An Unwelcome Truth Lurking in Roald Dahl's "Kiss Kiss"

NPR's Zoe Chace i i
Adam Davidson
NPR's Zoe Chace
Adam Davidson

Last week, NPR Librarian Kee Malesky shared how the strong, female protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn gave her inspiration as a young woman and reader.

Today, we hear from another NPR staffer who came across a book that freaked her out. Below, Zoe Chace from NPR's Planet Money shares how the iconic YA author Roald Dahl inspired her own PG-13 moment:

"Roald Dahl. Who among us Dahl readers was ready for those books? Not The Witches. The kid ends up as a mouse with only a few years live. Not The Twits. I've always been a little freaked out by beards ever since Mr. Twit got some fish stuck in his. The Vermicious Knids attacking the Great Glass Elevator gave me nightmares.

"So, I certainly was not prepared for Kiss Kiss. I picked it up, as I think many of us did, at the age that I was reading The Witches, thinking, jackpot! I've read all the Roald Dahl books six times— and here's one I've never read! It may be a false memory, as I spent so many summers there, but think I found it on my best friend Emily's parents' shelf. Though it was odd to find Roald Dahl on a parent's shelf, I was delighted.

"Kiss Kiss is for grown-ups. Roald Dahl's adults are horrifying minus the Matildas and the Charlies. Two stories in particular stuck with me: Royal Jelly and The Way Up To Heaven. It wasn't just the conclusions- which are nauseating. It was actually the marriages that I remember feeling the worst about. Both stories feature a married couple. The woman is a caricature of anxiety. Her husband exploits her weakness. He is calculatingly cruel. In one story, she wins the battle of wills between them, in the other, he does. Both stories feature a similar moment where the wife realizes that her husband hates her. He is not the man she thought she married.

"I had experience with two adults hating each other growing up. To avoid it, I got lost in my books. Reading Kiss Kiss is one of the first times I can remember a real-life truth staring back at me from a book. I hadn't yet thought about the nasty tricks adults play on each other just to hurt each other. Particularly, married adults who aren't in love and who might know the others weakness best. My imagination matured. The horrible detail in The Way Up to Heaven, where the wife finds her husband's comb shoved deep into a car seat, just to make her late— that's what makes short stories so good. The specifics turn the ordinary into something huge. When I read short stories as an adult, I'm usually searching for that reflective moment, to help explain my own life. As a kid, I never went looking for that."

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