Not So Grimm

updated 09/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

AND NOW, CHILDREN, IT'S TIME for a bedtime story—you know, the one about the three bears. "They all lived together anthropomorphically in a little cottage as a nuclear family.... [But] the nuclear family has traditionally served to enslave womyn, instill a self-righteous moralism in its members and imprint rigid notions of heterosexualist roles onto the next generation...." Hey, wait a minute, just what kind of story is this, anyway?

Believe it or not, it's the story of Goldilocks—that well-loved, "melanin-impoverished young wommon"—as told in James Finn Garner's Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (Macmillan). In Garner's world, almost everyone is either impaired or challenged in some way, and no one, not even a big bad wolf who devours people ("a perfectly valid course of action for a carnivore"), is answerable for his or her actions. A stand-up comic turned author, Garner, 34, professes a serious purpose: "When people read this, they'll realize that political correctness, when taken to an extreme, doesn't help understanding. It clouds it." Getting into the spirit, the Washington Post praised Garner as a modern "Hans Nonsectarian Andersen."

Growing up in Dearborn, Mich., Garner learned early to use wit as a defense against bullies. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1982, he moved to Chicago and eventually began doing improvisational comedy. His bedtime stories started out as readings between skits, but in 1992 he began shopping them around to publishers. After 27 rejections, he hit pay dirt with Macmillan, and in June made No. 4 on The New York Times best-seller list. But it's not as if Garner—who lives in Chicago with his wife, bank executive Lies Vander Ark Garner—never lapses into PC talk himself. When asked how it feels to have a hit, he says simply, "It is empowering."

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