#TBRChallenge: Cinderfella

This is late. But this is also SEPTEMBER, and I feel like all I’ve done for a month is drive children to and from school and activities and registration for various things. So I’m happy just to be doing a TBR Challenge post at all.

September Suggested Theme: Historical

Does this fit the theme? Not in any serious sense, no. It’s set in Kansas in 1895, but the historical setting is never more than a mechanism that allows the story to gently mock a career-minded woman who disparages sex and romance (and, interestingly, romance novels). In a contemporary the fun the story has at the heroine’s expense might feel a little too pointed, but back in “long ago and far away” the jokes aren’t treading on any toes. Well, not treading as hard, anyway.

But the novel does manage to capture the flavour of early, enthusiastic feminism-and-sexual-education advocates, so there’s that.

cinderfella

Title: Cinderfella

Author: Linda Jones

Published: September 1998, Love Spell

By now its pretty obvious that my To Be Read pile is full of crack. In fact, it would be fair to wonder if I was actually stoned on something-or-other when I purchased some of these books. But I didn’t buy this one, I swear. My husband found it in a rack of used paperbooks, and thought it looked like something I needed to own.

He was right, too. Not just for that cover (although LOOK AT THAT COVER), but because this was a really enjoyable read. It is, as some snippy annotationist has written in the margins of my copy, a silly book, but it owns its silliness and has great fun with it.

As the title suggests, this is a Cinderella story, at least for the first third. Once the relatively poor Ash Coleman (savour that; he also has a godfather who owns a horse named Pumpkin) has been unmasked and forced to marry the heroine at gunpoint, the story shifted slightly. It owes more to Emma than anything else I can think of, although it’s painted in bolder, sillier, more neon strokes.

The hero and heroine learn to get along and to communicate. He appreciates her efforts on the farm, and acknowledges he prefers beautiful, argumentative, slightly clueless Charmaine to the practical farmwoman type he’d loosely envisioned marrying. She finds out how to cook, sew, and milk a cow.

Much more importantly, she discovers she hasn’t really understood people at all, in general or in particular, and that the tract-waving anti-sex brother-in-law she so admired is a) beating her sister and b) planning to marry her, Charmaine, once the divorce is through. It shocks her into seeing that her ideal sexless marriage isn’t ideal at all, just some second-rate philosophy from a rather nasty man, and that romance (and lust) isn’t some character flaw she needs to avoid.

Quotations always help:

There would be no seminars, no heated discussions of the latest manuals over coffee and cake, no theater, no concerts. Why, if she were to discuss the latest thoughts on women’s rights, she would likely shock all Salley Creek. If she were to discuss the latest findings on the more intimate aspects of marital relations, she’d likely be run out of town on a rail. (p. 19)

There is no railroad in my hometown, so I personally have no fears of ever being run out of town on a rail, because no one is so interested in my opinions as to suddenly start laying track. But I’ll tell you, if I were to suddenly burst into a lecture on marital sex during a visit home, people would undoubtedly find some less labour-intensive way of letting me know I was nuts. And if I started lecturing them on women’s rights, they’d fall asleep en masse.

But things like this are why I love this book. Charmaine is utterly ridiculous, and the book knows it, and pokes gentle fun at it. Her opinions on everything are as unsubtle and enthusiastic as every undergrad you have ever seen return home, newly bursting with all the “right” opinions and determined to re-educate the world, and it is so well done I cringed several times, remembering that period of my own life.

How could poor Eula be truly happy? She was a virtual slave to her husband’s whims, working in his store, keeping his house, bearing and raising his children. And yet she seemed to be happy, poor thing. (p. 26)

“Marital continence, for one.” She tried not to blush, but this was, after all, her father. “Contraception, if the more desirable self-restraint is impossible. The unhealthy influence of the bicycle and romantic novels on young women, for another. Then there’s the physical detriment of the corset, and the–” (p. 29)

And so it had fallen to Charmaine to stand at Howard’s side and do her part to convince the uneducated that a woman had more to offer this world than servitude to a man. That a pure marriage was a higher calling, and that baser impulses could and should be ignored. (p. 76)

The clock was pealing the last reverberating strain of midnight, as Ash limped on one booted foot and one in only a sock to the alley where he’d left Pumpkin. (p. 130)

Her heart caught in her chest, her blood roared, and reminded herself of everything that Howard and his manuals had taught her. Magnetic currents, that’s all this was. (p. 188)

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