The novel “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” by Gregory Maguire is a distant relative to the novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” by the same author. Related only by author, “Confessions of and Ugly Stepsister” fails to step out of the shadow of “Wicked.”
“Wicked,” the politically charged re-imagination of the wonderful world of Oz, shines. It only makes sense that this would become a popular Broadway Musical, and a novel close to my heart. Still quivering from excitement by the end of the novel, I cracked open “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” expecting to be swept off of my feet once again by Maguire. Instead, I was pushed over and left for dead, regretting my decision to taint my high regard for
The mildly entertaining novel gives you a different perspective on the popular story of Cinderella. But, if you have a giddy admiration, bordering on reverence, for the unfortunate girl, this novel is definitely not for you. This novel weighs, on a tiny scale, superficial beauty, the beauty of kindness, the beauty of silence and the beauty of wicked ingenuity.
Cinderella (now known as Clara) is portrayed as incredibly vain, as this was the way she was raised by no fault of her own. The stepsisters, Iris and Ruth, are the unfortunate spawn of a woman suspected to be a witch. She is a witch only in attitude, but knows how to use her poison.
Escaping from their home after the death of their father (questionable), Iris and Ruth have to survive a new kind of life. Iris takes the worthy place of heroine in this re-imagination. Unfortunate enough to be neither pretty nor ugly, the plain-faced girl finds herself at the service of her sisters. Iris takes care of Ruth who is mute, does her mother’s bidding and looks after Clara while working around the girl’s vain indifference to her step-family’s pain, all while she is constantly tricked out of the chance of real love and pleasure through exploring her own talent.
Margarethe (the wicked stepmother) marries Clara’s wealthy father through near gorgeous ingenuity (did someone say poison?) and misplaced “care” for her daughters. Not wanting them to have to continue to work so hard she “does what she has to do” to marry this man. However, this novel does not promise this happy ending for the woman. The wealth crumbles, and once again, she must try to dredge her way through everyday existence. This time she has added a beautiful stepdaughter who scorns her beauty so much that she would rather cover it with ash and do every chore available to keep her away from everyone’s admiring eyes. How painful it must be to be beautiful. This is where I, of course, roll my eyes in disgust, close the book and promise to come back to it in three to four days.
Iris’s talent is rendered null while she has to remain mature to tend to her family. She finds her face an embarrassment, while her attitude seems to shine. Half way through the novel, one almost hopes that Clara becomes horribly disfigured and it turns out that it is really Iris who is the Cinderella we all know. However, this novel does not promise happy endings. Full of twists, turns and secondary story lines the novel, instead, promises to continually anger the reader until the very end where you find an eye popping “that did not just happen” moment.
Overall, the only satiation for my skin-itching annoyance during the story was a hardly satisfying ending. If this novel’s goal was to push me to the brink of dislike, it did its job.
Unlike Elphaba’s story in “Wicked,” this story line abuses Iris whom I had grown to love, as I am sure was the author’s intention. The parallel between stories that was masterfully created in “Wicked” is severely lacking in “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.” It attempts to form a link that remains disappointing to me. Perhaps I am still holding on to the innocence of Cinderella and the belief that someone such as her shouldn’t be such a whiny, “Woe is me. I’m gorgeous,” character.