Skewed Cinderella

Just finished reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Very entertaining! It's the Cinderella story told from another perspective, the entire thing narrated in flashback with short later-in-life portions at the beginning and end. It's out in paperback and makes a great summer read—meaning it's as easy as watching a made-for-TV movie. That's not to diminish it. Characters grow and develop, relationships evolve, and some events are happy while others are devastating. The story is not as simple as the fairy-tale version.

The stepsisters' mother, Margarethe, starts out as a fiercely protective mother, determined to make a good life for her girls, and ends up … different (to avoid giving away anything). The main character, Iris, shows artistic promise and, as a teen, longs to study under the local painter who is the family's first protector. I especially loved the early scenes describing his studio, his paintings, and Iris's growing response to them.

Maguire shows great imagination and creativity with detail, not relying on the bare-bones Cinderella tale, but developing it into a full (and thick) novel. Book-group discussion notes at the end refer to it as an historical novel. I wouldn't go that far in that direction. It does portray excellent period detail from the time of the Dutch tulip-investment bubble, and when the awesome Dutch painting style we are so familiar with was just developing. But the book was fanciful enough that I didn't feel I was learning history; I had no sense for whether or not the historical details were accurate, and didn't care. I was caught up in the plot—as I like to be, regardless what I'm reading.

This book was the choice of the book club I belong to, and I suggested it, so I'm responsible for leading the discussion. If I rely on the book-club discussion notes provided, it will be a cop-out, because they're lame as usual. Don't those discussion guides make you feel like you're back in ninth-grade English class, when the teacher asks one of these reaching-for-symbolism questions and the class responds with dumfounded silence?

Anyway, I think I'll add Maguire's latest book, Lost, to my list of books to read soon.