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#357 ~ So Much Pretty

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


My Review

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.

5 Comments

  • At 2011.08.24 00:16, Xe Sands said:

    Been trying to make it through but just cannot summon the time and energy…and it makes me a bit irritated that I should have to. I feel the author is perhaps overdoing the time jumping – that it doesn’t need to be quite so jarring. Perhaps her choice will all make more sense if I make it through. But the writing is extremely powerful, which is why I will continue to try.

    • At 2011.08.24 06:52, Jennifer said:

      There is definitely something about the writing, isn’t there? As much as I enjoyed it, this is a novel I can understand people not making it through. If you do end up finishing, I hope you find the entire journey worthwhile.

      • At 2011.08.24 09:40, rhapsodyinbooks said:

        Love this sentence: “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.” So many books like that lately! And then the author talks about it in such lyrical and beautiful language! It kind of has the effect of the story making even more of an impression on one! Nicely reviewed, as always!

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        • At 2011.08.24 10:02, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

          This sounds like a powerfully disturbing book. I’ll have to read it when I have time to sit down and get lost in it.

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          • At 2011.08.25 16:54, Beth said:

            I found So Much Pretty to be a deeply beautiful and also profoundly disturbing novel. It was not an easy read, but one that required attention and a bit of patience. But to me, any novel that makes me think should require work to read it–easy novels are fun, perhaps, but not always the most fulfiling. I see So Much Pretty as a narrative that asks readers for more than attention. You need to really delve into the language and the characters, and that may not be easy. Also, the non-linear narrative is part of the way, in my view, the author creates meaning. A beautiful and important book, that should be read and re-read.

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