So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Published on: March 2011
Page Count: 304
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: Review copy provided to me by the publisher for consideration
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook and audiobook
There are three types of people in Haeden, a small city in upper New York: the privileged, the working class who mainly worked for the privileged and a group of former hippies who moved to the area in hopes of living out the dream of communal living. Both the children of the elite and the leftist families were indoctrinated in their way. They were each elevated in different ways through the accident of birth. It was the children of the every man who remained invisible even in suffering. No one would have reported that fact were it not for a reporter who moved from Cleveland. She soon discovered you can’t escape the reach of human violence any more than you can prevent a singularly focused person from seeking vengeance.
Set in an typical small town powered by a huge dairy farm, So Much Pretty is an ambitious novel. Going back and forth in time, it weaves the story of Wendy White, Alice Piper and Stacy Flynn. Wendy is a local girl and recent high school graduate. A former member of the swim team, there is nothing necessarily special about her other than her nearly solitary decision to remain living in Haeden instead of going away to college. Instead, she came into her own working as a waitress until the day she ended up missing. Alice, the daughter of doctors who moved to town in pursuit of living out the dream of communal living, is a whip smart 15 year old. Although their commune never grew much beyond their own family, the Piper’s raised Alice in a very interesting way. Stacy is a reporter who decided to leave the bigger venue of Cleveland in order to make a name for herself. Her plan was to spotlight the environmental impact of Haeden’s huge commercial dairy. Soon it was the community’s lack of motivation to solve the disappearance of Wendy White that captured her attention. Had it not been for tragedy, the lives of these three women would never have intersected. It was the way in which information about each character was revealed that highlighted their relationships to one another as well as the inevitability of the future.
So Much Pretty is not told in a linear fashion. Instead, reading it was like pealing an orange and eating one slice at a time. It is only when you’ve eaten the last slice to you see I appreciated Hoffman’s prose and structure. It’s not a novel that can be read in parts. I didn’t completely engage until I sat down and read it through in large sections. Given the fluctuations in time and point of view, reading it in any other way would be nearly impossible. More challenging to me were the sections detailing Wendy’s disappearance. In this case, the change in time and perspective was helpful in providing an emotional distance. Still, there was a point where I wasn’t sure I could continue reading if there was more to follow. I made it through that chapter and found that it was the hardest chapter of all. It was very cold, though. If I dwell on it, it can still give me chills.
So Much Pretty is a powerful book that I enjoyed in much the same way as I did Saving Private Ryan. The writing and the atmosphere in both are phenomenal. They were both profound emotional experiences in which you very much feel that you are bearing witness. Neither are for the weak of heart. Both of them give you the sense of sitting vigil with those who suffered life’s atrocities. I am also quite certain that I never want to experience either of them again. Cara Hoffman is an amazing author, but reading this novel was a draining experience. It took every ounce of me to make it through. It’s not a book I’d suggest to anyone lightly, yet it has the potential of being profound for those who pick it up.