Friday, January 6, 2012
FFB: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire
Just when you think there have been too many re-imagined versions of well-known fairy tales along comes one that brilliantly reinvents perhaps the archetype of all fairy tales. Maguire, who with Wicked wrote a subversively political tale about Baum's Wicked Witch of the West, surpasses his debut novel with this compassionate tale of beauty and familial duty. Once again his richly detailed prose captures that feeling of a once upon a time that true fairy tales require and does so without ever appearing artificial.
This story of Iris and Ruth, their complex mother Margarethe, and their stepsister Clara of the "afflicted eternal beauty" is filled with wonderfully shaded characterizations that never fall into that good/evil dichotomy that Grimm and Perrault use in telling the original versions of Cinderella. Can kindness reside within ugliness? Is beauty and attractiveness really something to be envious of? Is a mother's apparent tyrannical household an environment that will produce wickedness? Is a nearly mute sibling nothing more than a drudge to babysit? Find the answers to these not so simple questions within Maguire's excellent story and be prepared to be reassess your own prejudices about the ugly and the beautiful.
This review (in a slightly different form) was written for amazon.com back in 1999 when the book was originally published. That's right, it's a new year and already I've become a lazy slob stealing my reviews from the interweb and posting them on my blog. Shameful.