Cinderella Retelling number 2
J. Phillips’s Sometime After Midnight
If you missed the introduction to this year’s Fairytale Fantasy series of posts, find it HERE.
Sometime After Midnight (Viking, 2018) is billed as a “CinderFella” story–a reimagining of the Cinderella story through an LGBTQ+ lens. It’s a fun, sweet read, but it’s not fantasy. This is very diverting and lovely YA romance.
This YA romance alternates chapters between the two main characters, Nate and Cameron. Nate is a poor boy, while Cameron is rich. They meet at a club where an indie band is playing, and it looks like sparks are going to fly. But then Nate realizes Cameron is the son of the man who maybe caused his own father’s death, and Nate flees before Cameron can get his name. All Cameron has to go on, as he yearns for Nate, is a blurry picture his phone snapped of Nate’s DIY-decorated Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers. The romance goes on from there, following a familiar romance arc. But you can see the Cinderella elements even in this brief description: the poor person reduced to scut-work (in this case, Nate has to work at his grouchy step-mother’s Dairy Barn drive-up), the rich person who is pretty much a modern-day prince whose dad is the king of a far-flung and powerful recording empire. And the shoes! Instead of going door-to-door with the photo of the Chucks, Cameron’s twin sister posts the pic on social media, and the hunt is on.
The way the author twines the Cinderella story into the romance tropes is tons of fun. The music industry backdrop is completely fascinating. I don’t know much about that stuff, but I was enthralled, and it’s clear the author knows what she’s talking about.
A couple of the novel’s features did not completely satisfy me as a reader, but since I’m an older reader and not the intended YA audience, I’m not sure how seriously you blog readers should take my misgivings. First, the middle of the novel seemed to me to sag under the weight of young adult angst. As the novel nears its end, though, the angsty feelings made more sense to me, and the romance was truly satisfying.
Another part that hit me wrong: Cameron is a singer/songwriter, Nate is a guitar player who would have made his doomed guitar-playing father proud. That’s all fine. But the author gives us a bunch of Cameron’s lyrics, and they turned me off. Nothing is really wrong with them–they just seem like the kind of bad self-absorbed poetry any random teen would write. Now, this may have more to do with my own taste as a poet and reader of poetry than anything else, and besides, lyrics are not the same as poetry intended to be read, either silently or (best) aloud. They’re intended to be set to music. But we don’t have the music. We have to imagine that.
This kind of problem, it seems to me, can really hurt a work of fiction. I’m thinking, for example (speaking of fantasy!) of the third book in Scott Lynch’s wonderful Gentleman Bastards series, The Republic of Thieves. For all its great features, it has one (avoidable) flaw. The plot involves our rascally heroes, Locke and Jean, on the run with a troupe of actors performing a play very much like one of Shakespeare’s. Unfortunately, we get too much of the play in the novel–lines and lines of it, and it’s not Shakespeare, folks. Well. . .maybe one of Shakespeare’s really bad early plays? This part of the book does the novel no favors.
I think something like this can be done very well, though. I just finished reading Emily St. John Mandel’s fine dystopian novel, Station Eleven, involving a mysterious art zine. Mandel’s novel gives us bits of the dialogue, and they work well. This may be because we’re talking about essentially comic book dialogue, not Shakespeare (or, in the case of Sometime After Midnight, song lyrics supposedly the next big genius indie thing). Mandel sets us up to understand the context by ingeniously doing stuff like quoting Star Trek.
Here are two other places I’ve seen similar devices work very, very well. One is in the film Hustle & Flow (2005, directed by Craig Brewer, produced by John Singleton), with a very similar plot device: indie musicians trying to make it in a tough recording environment. The advantage the film has over a novel, of course, is actually letting us hear the music. The film’s theme song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (Three 6 Mafia/Cedric Coleman) won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and was performed in the movie by its star, Terrence Howard with co-star Taraji P. Henson. The other example I’m thinking of is the superb over-the-top amazing Jim Jarmusch film, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), although in that film, the compelling music by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA is used more as a Greek chorus device, so maybe it’s not comparable. I see I’ve used two examples from hip-hop. Full disclosure: I know next to zero about hip-hop. All I do know is that in these two films, the music is used to brilliant effect.
My quibbles aside, Sometime After Midnight is a fine YA novel, and I really enjoyed it. It’s not fantasy, but the Cinderella material is not just tacked on, the way the Rapunzel references seem to be in Tower (discussed earlier this week). Sometime After Midnight is a delightful update of the Cinderella story. . .er. . .CinderFella story, and I recommend it.
NEXT UP: the last of the Cinderella retellings, Laura Wood’s A Single Thread of Moonlight.
ADDENDUM: I can’t resist adding one more example of novels in which embedded works of other types of art play a major part. That’s Margaret Atwood’s 1988 novel Cat’s Eye–Atwood in realism mode, not dystopian. The main character in Cat’s Eye is a visual artist. Atwood’s descriptions of this character’s paintings that don’t exist except in our imaginations are so compelling that they might as well exist. (Or I could be wrong about that–Atwood could have actually painted them. I believe she did do her own cover art that her publisher replaced with its own.)
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