“But what is nice anyway? Nice is so often only on the surface in my experience. The debris usually lies beneath.”
While The Stepmother had some plusses going for it, it failed to fully bewitch me.
It's touted as a fairy tale retelling but it only barely reaches that mark in that it takes the idea of a stepmother struggling in a new family and gives it a few in between chapter musings about Snow White and age-old stories. The writing style and melodramatic struggles of the heroine remind me more of gothic stories from the 60s/70s where the naïve young maiden has been brought into perilous family dynamics and never knows who to fully trust.
Seeber divides the book primarily through the POV of her main, Jeanie, but then splits in a few chapters for the sister Marlene, while again dishing out about five chapters from some omniscient narrator lecturing and warning about stepmothers and fairytales and the tropes with it. Not the standard writing, but not too unusual, it would have worked better if I had as much enthusiasm for Marlene as I did Jeanie. The writing style changed when switched to Marlene, became too toughened and unnatural. I much preferred Jeanie's point of view, which is a good thing since she's the main one on page, although the character herself was annoying sometimes.
Think of timidity sort of like Du Maurier's Rebecca. Jeanie is hesitant to get angry, upset at herself for raising her voice, afraid to protest when her husband is in a bad mood, worried about making him mad all the time, too hesitant with rude guests, a little wimpy in the face of bratty children...she stutters, she hesitates, and spends mucho time worrying over the smallest details. A weak backbone in a heroine can still support a story if IT has a strong backbone, but ultimately the two kind of blend together.
The writing style - again, is kind of gothicky - surreal through an unreliable narrator. Characters are a little stereotypical but not too bad. You have the bitchy ex-wife who is gorgeous, the almost perfect seeming husband who is moody with his strange wife, the one bratty teenage step-daughter, and the loyal biological son who doesn't get along with the new family.
Take care with this one if you're sensitive about animal deaths in books. It's not in detail but it happens. I'm sensitive to it myself, but I get it plays a large role in story later. *shudders*
There are twists in this one but the ending isn't too much of a surprise really. It was what I figured...well, one of at least three guesses. On the plus side, the book is hard to put down once you get into it - even if the main character is annoying and you're waiting for her to get angry and tell everyone off (she doesn't) - it's rewarding to see what little surprise and sabotage will pop up next.
Received from Netgalley in exchange for honest review
“It took me a lifetime to understand that, all too often, people are just plain nasty. They can't see beyond their own stuff. They're scarred forever, and they want to take you down too.”