Several years after her adventures in Wonderland, Alice is a confident young woman studying history at college. Then, during a family excursion to Brighton Beach, she ends up in strange lands beyond our own. There, Alice wants to find Jack Door, a black feathered boy she fell in love with the last time she visited. But Wonderland is even more chaotic than usual. Time is out of joint because characters like Cinderella, Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty wander the lands, seeking amends for past injustices. However, the bloodthirsty Red Queen wants to chop their heads off, while the sinister Hatter desires to have Alice for himself. Alice is the only person who can set things right. Or can she?
DJ Stoneham’s ONCE UPON A WONDERLAND is his second novel continuing the adventures of Alice (the first being Alice Falls Again). In the past, he had Lewis Carroll’s most famous creation encounter characters from popular nursery rhymes. This time around, it’s fairy tale characters (think Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella) and Stoneham playfully deconstructs these familiar stories. His versions of fairy tales are often unusual and off-kilter, like the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At other times, his characters are comically anachronistic, like Rapunzel, who acts as a wannabe TikTok influencer. And sometimes the author pokes at the stories’ plot holes or retells older (and surprisingly darker) versions of these famous tales. All the while, his broader purpose is to unearth new lessons and hidden truths. One thing is for sure–Stoneham will attempt pretty much anything to make the reader laugh. There are puns, wordplay, frequent anachronisms, and surreal humor. Not all of his jokes land, but plenty of them do.
On the downside, despite Stoneham’s best efforts, the narrative of his novel often feels repetitive and follows the same or similar pattern: Alice meets fairy tale characters and relates what she believes to be their story. They respond by explaining the “true” version of the tale. Then they go their separate ways, and it’s off to the next chapter. This repetition makes the novel feel formulaic, in marked contrast with the feeling of anarchic energy the author is trying to impart.
In his funny, surreal novel ONCE UPON A WONDERLAND, DJ Stoneham ambitiously aims to continue Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with entertaining excursions to familiar fairy tale characters and lands.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader