#30Authors: Keija Parssinen on Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns
Some of you may have read previous posts where I've discussed my excitement about participating in #30Authors this year; I am so flattered to be able to present author Keija Parssinen's thoughts on Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns. I recently posted my thoughts on Keija's novel, The Unraveling of MercyLouis, which is definitely one of my favorite books of the year; you must add it to your list, if you haven't already.
#30Authors is an annual event connecting readers, authors, and bloggers. Throughout the month of September, 30 authors review their favorite books on 30 blogs in 30 days. The event has been met with incredible support from and success within the literary community. In the six months following the event’s inaugural launch, the concept was published as an anthology by Velvet Morning Press (Legacy: An Anthology). Started by The Book Wheel, #30Authors remains active throughout the year and you can join in the fun by following along on Twitter at @30Authors, using the hashtag, #30Authors, or purchasing the anthology. To learn more about the event and to see the full schedule, please click here.
Keija Parsinnen on Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns:
In the haunting and deeply-felt memoir Cinderland, Amy Jo Burns carefully reconstructs her hometown of Mercury, Pennsylvania and the sexual abuse scandal that divided it. But Burns, a victim of the abuser, doesn’t allow the scandal to commandeer her story or propel the plot. Instead, she offers a subtle exploration of girlhood in small-town America, where good girls must never stop smiling, even when a trusted piano teacher robs them of their childhood.
Gender is always a performance, to some degree, but Burns reveals that the roles available to girls, particularly in towns where tradition trumps everything and tribalism predominates, are confining at best, and at worst, inflict life-long damage. Burns understands acutely the damages accrued from this kind of gender performance; for years, she kept secret the abuse she endured at age ten because being an accuser was not congruous with being good. In fact, the girls who came forward were met with suspicion and hostility as townspeople rallied around the abuser and decried the accusations as a pre-adolescent conspiracy.
The teenaged Burns feels guilty for her lie—when the police ask her if the man ever touched her, she says no—but guilt isn’t enough to propel her into the truth’s dangerous territory. She keeps her secret, which becomes “a merciless captor” as the years unfold. Still, she plays her part masterfully, and by the time she is a senior in high school, she is amply rewarded, earning a coveted spot on the homecoming court and landing the lead in the school musical. Years spent costumed and grinning in the chorus finally yield dividends. But at what spiritual and emotional cost? As she makes her way through Mercury in the homecoming parade, Burns writes: “All my sacrifices for this ultimate chance to put myself on a pedestal now felt like bleeding out on the inside.”
Though Burns doesn’t shy away from apportioning blame—wrenchingly, she quotes from letters of support written by townspeople to the court on behalf of the molester—she also renders her hometown with the generosity and grace of someone who has found peace. Early in the book, Burns writes of the decaying steel town: “I still found moments where I clasped the tragic beauty of this place around my neck like an heirloom necklace.” This conflicted affection shines through in Burns’ enchanting descriptions of slow summer afternoons at the pool, long-time church friendships, and the rituals of football games and school plays. In reading Cinderland, one has the sense that, at long last, the truth has set Amy Jo Burns free.
About Keija Parssinen:
Keija Parssinen graduated cum laude from Princeton University, where she studied English literature and received a certificate from the Program for the Study of Women and Gender. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote fellow, a Teaching and Writing fellow, and the student editor of the Iowa Short Fiction contest. After finishing the program, she won a Michener-Copernicus award for her debut novel, The Ruins of Us, which was published in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Italy and around the Middle East. The novel was long-listed for the Chautauqua Prize. Her second novel, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis,was named a Must Read by Ploughshares, Bustle, Bookish, Pop Sugar, and Style Bistro. In 2014, Keija was a Visiting Professor of fiction writing at Louisiana State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Lonely Planet travel-writing anthologies, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Five Chapters, This Land, the New Delta Review, Salon, Off Assignment, Marie Claire and elsewhere.
About Amy Jo Burns:
A writer of fact and fiction, Amy Jo Burns hails from the land of abandoned steel mills and four-wheeler accidents. She is a Cornell University graduate who currently writes about the cross-sections between literature and television for Ploughshares. Amy Jo's literary memoir Cinderland is forthcoming from Beacon Press, and you can find her on Twitter @amyjoburns.