Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 17, 2001

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Fourteen people attended this meeting. Confessions of a Ugly Stepsister is a retelling of Cinderella from the point of view of one of her stepsisters. The story in Confessions starts earlier and ends later than the traditional story, so we learn more about the history of Cinderella’s step-family and what happens to them after she marries the prince. The author, Gregory Maguire, is best known for his previous novel Wicked, which was the biography of the Witch of the West fromThe Wizard of Oz. Twelve of us had finished the book, one had read half, and the other did not start it.

Several of us loved this book for its premise and Maguire’s execution of it. Comments included “This book kicks butt!” and “Great book! I was hooked by the third paragraph.” We liked how the author set the story in a specific time and place (17th century Holland) and worked historical details and characters into the story. The family develops friendships with several Dutch painters, which allows the author to include a lot of discussion of the nature of perception and its role in life and art.

Half of us had serious problems with the book. The removal of all fantastic elements from the story left us with a historical novel that many felt was off-topic for a science fiction and fantasy reading group. The basic story had been changed so much that a few of us felt all the interesting parts had been removed from Cinderella. The narrator’s use of present tense and trickery with point of view made the book awkward to read. We liked the addition of painters to the story but were frustrated that the plot threads about art were not carried through. From the title we’d expected the book to be funny, but that was not the case. As one person put it, “I’d still like to read a fun book based on this one’s title and cover.”

Overall we can only give a mixed recommendation to Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. We all liked the basic idea of the book and admired the author’s ambition, but we disagreed about how well he succeeded. After the meeting several of us had a nice dinner at The Spaghetti Warehouse.

–A. T. Campbell, III