Palo Alto-base author Danielle Teller based her first novel on Agnes, a woman of the Middle Ages who becomes stepmother to the fairy tale character Cinderella. TOPHER SIMON/PHOTO
Good and terrible things coexist in everyday people and their lives. Which means that a realistic account of life—or a realistic retelling of a classic fairy tale—must drop the “happily ever after” ending and promise “truthfully ever after.”
And so the truth-seeking story goes in Palo Alto-based writer Danielle Teller’s first novel, “All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother” (Morrow, $26.99, 384 pages).
Teller set aside an established medical career as a pulmonary doctor and researcher five years ago to write full time. Nevertheless, she plays surgeon still, extracting the (formerly) villainous stepmother as protagonist and skillfully excising the classic story’s myths, magic and misconceptions.
Teller, 49, is co-author with her husband, Google X CEO Astro Teller, of “Sacred Cows,” a nonfiction book about marriage and divorce. Stepping out solo into well-researched fiction shows Teller in complete command. “Ever Afters” offers a dynamic plot, intriguing characters, facts and language accurate to the medieval era and surprising depth as it sheds light on gender and class struggles experienced by people in the Middle Ages.
The life of Agnes, we learn, began as a servant girl whose street smarts, head for finances and yes, large heartedness eventually result in her becoming the hard-working wife of a lord and stepmother of Ella, aka Cinderella. Teller slays the easily-digestible ugly-evil personas of the stepsisters and grafts sympathetic but not sugar-coated, rational explanations: Charlotte is ostracized for a darker-than-lily-white complexion, Matilda scorned for scars left by smallpox. Their suffering is real, and society is doubly condemned for prejudice, especially when it comes to economic status and women’s outward appearance. Ella remains a vital, secondary character as daughter of the Mother of the local abbey. The tale’s darker angles emanate from their prickliness, layering the stiffness of formal religion with mysticism, magic, human psychology and, in the case of Ella, society’s and Agnes’ less-than-perfect response to people who display atypical behavior related to OCD or autism.
It’s a hefty package that reads swiftly, arguably because Teller has always been a tremendous reader. “I grew up in a small town in Ontario, north of Toronto,” she says in a phone interview. Due to her father’s occupation working for a Canadian chemical company, the family moved five times before Teller graduated from high school. “In Quebec, the library was in a trailer, very small. I read all the children’s books quickly and moved on to adult books way over my head. One was about an actress who played Ophelia in ‘Hamlet.’ Not wanting to play it somber and depressed, as the director wanted, she played it flamboyantly.”
Most to her liking were science-fiction books by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and others. “It was wonderful escape through a fantastic realm from my emotionally fraught middle and high school world. It was concept building, with big ‘What Ifs?’ They weren’t primarily focused on relationships between …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment