So a while ago when they first came out, I read the Wicked books. I remember really loving the first one, but the other two were far from satisfying. After that I gave up on Gregory Maguire and moved on to different literary pastures. This past Christmas, my dad and I perused several thrift stores, and I found Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and I decided to give it a try.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells an alternate version of the Cinderella story. Clara, soon to be Cinderella, is the stunningly beautiful shut-in daughter of a well-to-do tulip investor. She wants nothing more than to be inside and alone, fearing the outside world and abhorring the attention that her beauty brings her. Iris and Ruth, Clara’s soon to be stepsisters, are the less than desirable daughters of a desperate woman who has become a housemaid to put food on the table for her children. Iris is a daydreamer who is always trying to look behind the curtain of the world to find the mysteries and magics that lurk there.
The events that unfold in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister make one sympathize with every character. Though some are more maligned than others, their actions are none the less understandable. The ending, while very unsatisfying in tying up the threads of the book, was satisfying in that it was very true to life. The characters simply live their lives through the events in the book, and continued to do so afterwards, with all the boons and tragedies therein.
While it was not my favorite, I enjoyed reading this book. Most of the book I felt like I was waiting for something to happen and I felt like I was reading it out of habit more so than due to curiosity. The last 1/3 or 1/4 of the book, though, I read in a single sitting. All of the development came to a head and I found myself intrigued.
The main thing I took away from reading this book was the theme of the curse of beauty. This curse is usually meant to mean that those who are beautiful are bound to become vain and selfish people. However, the unfortunate events in the life of Clara that happen to her solely due to her appearance, and through no fault in her personality, truly drive the real meaning of this curse home. Due to an aspect of her appearance over which she has no control, a girl who would prefer to live in quiet seclusion is always singled out, always drowned in attention, and always desired. This attention and desire is selfish on the part of her admirers, because their wishes to behold and possess Clara’s beauty run counter to her own wishes.