He dissects our preoccupation with physical beauty and its virtuous connotations by taking the well-known fairy tale, standing it on its head, and turning out its pockets. The Truth Behind Appearances, Young Love, and The Value of Artistic Representation all assert and justify themselves like amiably complicated characters through Maguire's deceptively contemporary storyline and his devastating use of the third person omniscient. Set in 17th-century Holland, Confessions is the story of Margarethe Fisher, her two daughters Iris "plain as a board" and Ruth "ungainly and unattractive, a gibbering and stammering" mess , and of Clara our lovely Cinderella and the man who paints her The Master. Tragedy lands Margarethe and her daughters homeless in Holland, but a series of opportunistic finaglings soon finds the family merged with that of Clara's, though still threatened by poverty. Margarethe espies a final opportunity at the upcoming ball and plies the dashingly mundane Prince with the temptation of her "best" daughter.

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W hat if -- despite all you've heard to the contrary -- everything was Cinderella's fault: the ashes, the dirty clothes, the long hours toiling over a cauldron?

What if the Grimm Brothers got it wrong, and Cinderella was really just a controlling, prepubescent brat? If, instead of being a tale of beauty and goodness triumphing over ugly old evil, Cinderella's story was in fact a parable of the way those possessed of physical beauty can trample on the patient, the intelligent, the good?

Gregory Maguire's new book retells Cinderella's story from the perspective of one of the stepsisters, in much the same way his first novel, "Wicked," reworked "The Wizard of Oz" to give the witch's point of view. In "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister," Cinderella is a manipulative, self-pitying child who hates her new family, fears the outside world and holes up at home until a visiting French prince's search for a bride offers a chance at escape. Clever but painfully plain Iris -- ostensibly the stepsister in question -- arrives in 17th century Haarlem during Holland's tulip mania, with her stolid, mute sister, Ruth, and their mother, Margarethe, after their father's murder sends them fleeing from their English home.

The starving threesome eventually take refuge in the home of tulip importer Cornelius van den Meer; Margarethe is to work there as housekeeper while Iris serves as companion to van den Meer's lovely young daughter, Clara. Clara, however, turns out to be petulant, ill-mannered and spoiled rotten, as well as too timid to leave her house. After van den Meer's wife dies and he marries Margarethe, Clara creates a refuge for herself in the kitchen, taking on more of the household chores.

When Iris gets a chance to apprentice herself to a local artist, Clara urges her stepsister to let her take control of the girls' shared duties:. Maguire's more complicated version of the fairy tale takes its time in telling; by the time readers get to the climactic grand ball, they've gone through a surplus of set-ups and foreshadowings, metaphorical gestures and red herrings. To drive home his politically correct reversal of the Grimms' preference for earthly beauty, Maguire weighs down the text with ponderous symbolic flourishes: a town caught up in pursuit of the fragile but lovely tulips that plummets into bankruptcy; a painter whose studio, filled with radiant religious works, distracts visitors from a back room stocked with portraits of demons and imps; and a convoluted, curious tale of kidnapping and physical transformation.

Maguires own transformative work is less successful, however. Unlike the heroine in "Wicked" who emerged as a far more complex and likable character than in L. Frank Baum's original, the figures in "Stepsister" seem simply to be different stereotypes: the outshined, smart but plain heroine; the bitter old woman clinging dearly to survival. And, oddly, Maguire's rewrite only goes so far: Cinderella herself still gets a version of happily ever after.

Rowling's wildly successful "Harry Potter" books prove that fairy tales can provide fine literary fodder. But Rowling surprises us with her complex personalities and fanciful story lines; Maguire's latest, on the other hand, offers only stock characters and heavy-handed devices.

In the end, "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" is just a bit short on magic. Profile Go Ad-Free Logout. Related Topics Books. Related Articles. Trending Articles.


Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

The old, good stories are capable of endless revisiting and revisionism. Gregory Maguire, who has made a speciality of them, is far too canny a writer to have only one set of tricks. The Oz sequence that started with Wicked is a straightforward validation and mitigation of the Wicked Witch of the West's personality and crimes. In Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by contrast, his strategy with the Cinderella story is to show the two stepsisters of the beautiful Clara as very different from each other, and Clara herself as a passive-aggressive young woman determined to make life difficult for all around her. One of Maguire's most obvious concerns is with female solidarity. Here, Iris is caught between her paranoid mother determined that neither she nor her daughters will starve , her own desire for painter's apprentice Caspar and his art, her tongue-tied and possibly imbecilic sister Ruth, and her genuine affection for Clara.


"Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" by Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a novel by Gregory Maguire , retelling the tale of Cinderella through the eyes of one of her "ugly stepsisters. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, the plain younger daughter of Margarethe Fisher, as she takes care of her mentally challenged older sister Ruth and her beautiful stepsister Clara. Having fled from the Fens of Cambridgeshire , England to Haarlem , the Netherlands , upon her father's death, Iris is slightly at odds with the world and often contemplates the value of beauty and ugliness. While caring for her sisters and keeping the peace between Clara and Margarethe, Iris develops a painter's eye and spends time studying under a local painter known as The Master, and his apprentice, Caspar. Margrethe makes Iris and Ruth go to the ball in the hopes of making the prince fall in love with Iris.


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The time is the 17th century, the place Holland. But Grandfather has died; preadolescent Iris who narrates is too plain to marry, and elder sister Ruth is an ungainly simpleton scarcely able to speak. The visiting Dowager Queen of France arrives in Haarlem seeking a worthy portraitist. A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the classic. The microparticle's introduction to Earth in was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda.

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