A novella by Michelle Davidson Argyle
Create Space, 2010
“Sometimes she forgot about the other man, the stranger she'd met long ago, long before she was given fur shoes and knew there were such things as magic and spells.”
The great strength of Cinders is that it does not dwell. It does not need to. Argyle's prose is tight and the reading space between the lines is packed with layers. In a single sentence, such as the above, Argyle is able to connect the reader to her main character's past, present, and future, and to the emotional relationship Cinderella has with each.
In Cinders, Argyle demonstrates a rare sense of restraint. The temptations for digression, exposition, and exploration in a work like this abound. An author could be forgiven for reveling in the historical fiction aspect of restoring to a popular fairy tale the trappings of real life. An author could be forgiven for ruminating about in the philosophical and social contradictions between the circumstances of a popular fairy tale and the reality of human experience. An author could even be forgiven for relishing the opportunity to make a popular legend her own.
Argyle does each of these things, but she does not obsess over any of them. Instead, her obsession is her character. Her Cinderella is a woman like any other. A woman with passions, frustrations, desires, and plenty of questions. She does not quite understand where she is, how she got there, or where she's going. This, to me, felt like the heart of Argyle's story. Cinders is not a re-telling of the Cinderella story or a turning-on-its-head of the fairy tale as a form. It is the story of a young woman who got what she thought she wanted and then realized she didn't really know what she wanted – or what she got.
Because Argyle does not dwell on any topic, theme, or passage, Cinders moves at a brisk pace that only slows down during a few moments of nostalgia and during the denouement. This style also means that the reader is given both the responsibility and the liberty to connect the dots. While told in third person, the narrative voice of the story is essentially Cinderella's, and yet because of the tight style and the fairy tale form there is little exposition or externalization of the main character's psychology.
The one limitation of this novella, if there is one, is that many readers will likely not know what to expect or, therefore, how to approach it. Cinders should not be read at a quick, surface level as if it were a YA fantasy romance. It is literary fiction, told in the form and tradition of the fairy tale. As such, a patient and thoughtful reader will be rewarded with a reach and intricate experience. A more casual reader will likely enjoy the story, but may find it difficult to relate to Cinderella at times, and may not be satisfied by the ending. Argyle does not serve the entire story on a platter, but she serves it well, to anyone willing to take their time and enjoy it.