60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable story; Stunning writing
I have read more books than I would like centered around the disappearance of a woman. Several recent titles that leap to mind are Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; The Fates Will Find Their Way; and The False Friend. The missing women in these books are almost certainly dead, but we don't always find out for certain.
SO MUCH PRETTY is also about a missing...
Published on March 12, 2011 by Janet L.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rural Idiocy (3.5*s)
This penetrating, though choppy and fragmented, story of a murdered local girl is a pretty strong indictment of life in the hinterlands of America; the subtitle could be "the idiocy of rural life." In all of the quick rotations from the mid-90's to the late 2000's and the profusion and confusion of characters, it is learned that Claire and Gene Piper, both of whom were...
Published on March 24, 2011 by J. Grattan
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33 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a bit too preachy for this small-town gal,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)As a product and resident of the type of town in which this story takes place, I did take some offense. I'm staunchly feminist, a high school teacher, and I've lived in a big city (L.A.). Read the other reviews for the in-depth summaries, but here you'll find a different take on the story.
I downloaded the book based on an NY Times Book Review, a source I trust for great, new fiction. So Much Pretty is a thriller, a fast read, and mystery that has more going for it than the usual John Grisham fare. The structure of the story is ingenious and effective: the tale of these two young women is provided through schoolwork, the points of view of various characters in town, police reports, and letters. All good stuff, and all stuff making the book worth the effort to read.
Here's what I didn't like:
1. The implication that men in small towns are small-minded, and that the women who marry them are also small-minded. Specifically, there is one character who loves the men in her family so implicitly that she can see NO faults in them. This is not believable. If the audience is no one but herself, mothers do often see the faults in their children and their husbands, even when these mothers have sacrificed a great deal to be with them. These mothers might defend their children to the outside world, especially to the members of their social circle, but when it comes down to it, I have never seen a mother lie to herself so thoroughly as one mother in this book does, except in movies and in other works of fiction.
2. The preachy tone of the book is off-putting. Yes, we get that women are often the victim of violence, and that too often the perpetrators of the violence is from the men they know. I'm a die-hard, proud feminist, and I hate watching Law and Order: SVU and the various CSI iterations simply because the victims are so often women, perpetuating the female as victim sensationalism. But I don't need to be told this outright in a work of fiction.
3. The idea that small-towns are blind to the crimes within their communities. To an outsider, this may appear to be the case. After reading about the author, I felt that she had herself been blinded to the obvious. Those of us who choose to live in small towns are not as quaint and simple as she makes us out to be. As someone who has lived in both very large metro areas and in small towns, I've met all kinds of people. The types of people who live in Haedan, NY (the setting of the novel) can be found anywhere, not just in small towns, which seems to be willfully ignored.
I'm guessing that most people reading this review will suspect I took offense at one aspect of the novel that hit a personal nerve. That may be the case, but I can't give this novel a 5 star review because I think a lot of people would feel the same as I do. So many of the characters in this novel are types of characters, not fully developed, individualized characters. And I don't think the book stands up as enough of an allegory to sustain that lack of depth in the characters.
Overall, it's an easy, fast read that gets us thinking about violence against women. The details aren't as salacious the Girl with Dragon Tattoo series, but the story is much simpler.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Stunning. It took my breath away.,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)This is only the second book that I have ever read that literally took my breath away. I was moved and awestruck by the incisive writing and the content because you just don't get that much anymore. This is by no means a crime novel, although the book centers around crime. It is so much more than that. It is transcendent. Flynn, the tough, but tiny reporter, is trying so hard to make people see beyond their own little bucolic bubbles to really see what has been going on with this investigation and no one will listen to her. It is as if she is shouting into a tornado. And much like a tornado everything in this novel just keeps gathering force and building into this beautiful tableau that must be seen (or read to be believed).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So Much Pretty,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)What at first blush appears to be a bucolic setting is soon discovered to be much less innocent than it first seems. Gene and Claire Piper have moved from their lives in New York City to the small western NY town of Haeden, an isolated, hardscrabble place close to Appalachia whose residents have a median income of less than $14,000 a year. Young and idealistic doctors, they have both put in their time [at 70 hours a week] in a Free Clinic in Manhattan and had planned on seeking assignments from Doctors Without Borders.
This debut novel from Cara Hoffman is different from almost anything I've read recently. It moves at almost a leisurely pace - until it doesn't, of course - and in non-linear fashion. [Even the last portion of the book, when all has been made clear, jumps a bit back and forth by a few or several days at a time.] And until I looked back at the brief prologue, I hadn't remembered that had I not lost track of that single page, it had provided a foreshadowing of what is to follow. But no further hint of those events is found until many, many pages later. In the meantime, character studies and backstory is provided, in wonderful prose. But suddenly when and shortly after Wendy's fate becomes known, suddenly time seemed to stop as I kept reading and was then unable to -- to keep reading, that is -- and I nearly stopped breathing for a minute or two.
The major characters include Wendy White, a local 20-year-old woman, who disappeared one night over five months ago, the presumption being that she had simply run away from her boring life; Alice Piper [Gene and Claire's daughter], a preternaturally bright and athletic high school student; and Stacy Flynn, a 29-year-old reporter for the local paper who had left a job working as a journalist in Cleveland, Ohio searching for a big, important story on environmental issues she hoped to find in Haeden. As the old saw goes, `be careful what you wish for.' What she finds are indeed those issues, as well as others dealing with the systemic and almost casual brutalization of women and the indifference of those who live in its midst. The watchword here presented is, as I believe was said by George Orwell, that "the responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious," even, or especially, when doing so "becomes a horror." A powerful book, one that will stay with me, and one that is recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Much Pretty,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)When I started reading this book, I had no idea what I was getting into. All I wanted was a story that wasn't paranormal or dystopian, and So Much Pretty was the first thing I grabbed from my bookshelf.
The whole book is told in different POV's, from different characters. Some in first person and some in third. Not only did the narrator change every few pages, the book would jump randomly through time. You literally had to do math before each chapter to get some sense of how and when this relates to the other chapters. It was very difficult, and for this reason I couldn't read for long periods of time. It was to much work.
Hoffman creates some very interesting characters, but since their narration is only a page or two long, they aren't as developed as they could be. I found this true, really, through out the whole book. Their was so much going on, and so much confusion, that nothing was every really explained or talked about because she kept jumping from point to point.
The premise was so interesting, and the writing so phenomenal, that It was truly a shame that the author never really told the story. It felt almost like this was almost a prequel to the real book. There was so much back story that by the time the real story began the book was basically over. When I read the last page, I had no idea I was reading the last chapter. It just stops.
Strangely enough, I think I really liked this book. Maybe even loved. The world Hoffman created was so scary and real. The kind that makes you want to sleep with the lights on and double check the locks on your door. It wasn't really a murder mystery, but it's a story of Alice's revenge and a town's denial. And when you do find out what Alice did... You'll be like me, begging for a hundred more pages, and furious when it's over.
A amazing book, that sparked a different and unusual emotion from reading.
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Compelling subject matter, maybe, but not good fiction,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)No doubt that women (or men) being abused by loved ones, friends or acquaintances is a tragedy, but this book's portrayal of it is gratuitiously titilating and shallow. It doesn't work as political or sociological commentary and it most definitely does not work as a mystery or thriller. The reader is left to guess how the character that alledgedly solved the mystery actually solved it (that might have been interesting), or if the character really even solved the mystery. There is little explanation as to the crime itself except for a few unnecessarily graphic parts (and what happened to the character Dale, anyway?).
The perspective changes every few pages, with different narrators, and jumps frequently in time. The reader is left without any real insight into any of the characters. The result is that I just didn't care by the end of the book. No connection with any character.
I bought the book based on a strong NYT review - and encourage you not to bother.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, Haunting Debut,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)With my work schedule cutting my reading time into smaller segments at the moment, it took me too long to get through this book, a segmented reading that didn't fit well with a book itself segmented, each chapter narrated by one of a half dozen characters. There's Flynn, the Cleveland journalist who comes to small town Haeden in upstate New York looking for a `big' story to make her name. Flynn starts out investigating a local dairy farm for its hazardous environmental impact on the community, but ends up in dark waters of a different nature when a local girl (Wendy) goes missing and ends up dead in a ditch several months later. The town refuses to acknowledge that the kidnapper/killer is one of them, maybe more than one, and Flynn finds few allies as she delves deeper into the disturbing American pattern of unsolved violence against women.
And there is the family of Alice Piper, a beautiful, talented 15-year-old whose young doctor parents are 21st century hippies, priding themselves on getting out of the city and its pressures, both economic and sociologic. Gene and Claire are Alice's first teachers, and, along with Gene's best friend, `Uncle' Constant, and Constant's brother Ross, the adults instill independence, open-mindedness, and a steady stream of their held-over counter-culturalism in young Alice.
Alice and Flynn become friends over time, as Flynn covers local events in which Alice shines, accepting awards for creativity and becoming her high school swimming star. But Flynn is also a teacher to Alice, who begins to learn more about women's issues, and when Wendy goes missing, Alice's shock at the loss of her former swimming cohort turns into an obsession. Both Flynn and Alice pursue separate paths in trying to determine who the culprits are, but diverge in ways of dealing with what they discover.
I could see the climactic scene coming, and frankly it is given away midway through, but when it does happen, I also saw the larger ideas that had been scattered so well throughout the book's various narrators. In finishing, I definitely wished I could have read it all so much more closely together, but still, the center holds and I was satisfied. There is more going on here than a simple mystery - pretty good stuff.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Stunning Read,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)I rarely read a book in this genre, because often times I find the books trying too hard to be sensational and gripping. Ms. Hoffman in "So Much Pretty" lays out a gripping and compelling reading that draws the reader into the complex and provocative narratie that unfolds. The narrative structure of the book adds so much to the richness of the read, leaving the reader piecing the pieces together as time and voice shifts. The overarching issues that unfold during the course of the read are problematic and confrontational to the reader this bold move by Ms. Hoffman deserves much praise.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-researched page turner with thoughtful characters,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)This was a great book from start to finish. I was hooked in with the suspense and plot twists, but got more out of some of the author's finer points that there's no such thing as the "right way" to live or correct beliefs to hold.
The characters were so well described and believable that I felt like I knew them. The topics covered were so well researched, and the writing within the writing (one character's school essays) was particularly moving.
I read somewhere that novelists are able to understand and articulate human emotion and behavior better than most therapists, and this is definitely true for Cara Hoffman. I can't wait for her 2nd novel.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars engaging crime thriller,
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)In Haeden, New York, Wendy White was a cocktail waitress at a local bar and happy with having her first boyfriend. When she vanished, local law enforcement investigated but never solved her disappearance. The case remains cold while her family grieves their loss. Five months later Wendy's corpse is found.
Cleveland reporter Stacy Flynn had been in Haeden looking into the impact of the prime employer a dairy on the environment and a high number of deaths. When Wendy's body is found the journalist believes she has a bigger story. However, no one in the small town will talk to her except to insist an outsider is the killer.
Her parents moved with teenage Alice Piper from New York City to Haeden to provide a healthier lifestyle for their offspring. A genius with an upbeat confidence that the locals consider city swagger, she reads the Ohio reporter's article in the Haeden Free Press on the stratospheric amounts of deadly violence against women. Unable to keep her head in the sands as the natives have done, Alice considers who the killing wolf amidst the sheep is. Even when another brutal crime occurs, the locals are severely shaken but still prefer to believe a stranger committed it.
This engaging crime thriller looks deeply at cause and effect as the horrific act begets an equally horrific reaction. Once the plot stops switching between 1997-98 and 2007-08-09 (a few chapters in) the story line settles takes off on an exciting dark psychological path. Alice and Stacy separately dig deep into the façade of a safe small-town, whose residents blame a mystical stranger for any acts of violence. Readers will appreciate Cara Hoffman's profound look at a small western New York town through the eyes of two intrepid outsiders.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious.",
This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)The idea that you can't go home again is painfully reinforced in Hoffman's novel, the spirited America of our imaginations swallowed whole by the financial and environmental impact of agribusiness, family holdings replaced by corporations increasingly bolstered through international partnerships. In Haeden, in the Rust Belt of western New York State, the façade remains intact, a durable image of down-to-earth folks with American values, but the reality is that the local Hayte dairy employs fewer locals than the big box stores, Haeden's proximity to Appalachia reflected in the power of a wealthy few and a growing economic chasm where minimum wage is the norm. When New York physicians Gene and Claire Piper take advantage of an opportunity to "return to the land" to raise their young daughter, Alice, they imagine reinventing their relationship to their environment, becoming part of a community deeply entrenched in its own history.
Another relative newcomer, Stacy Flynn is the sole editor/reporter for the local newspaper, harboring a nascent dream of exposing myth vs. reality and the massive environmental impact of corporate agribusiness. But when local girl Wendy White disappears, Flynn becomes obsessed with finding the girl, convinced she is still alive and nearby. Recently capturing the interest of the Hayte dairy scion, Dale, Wendy has shed the soft lines of adolescence for a newfound beauty that sets easily on a young woman happy with her life and expectations. Hoffman builds her tale- one loaded with surprises- on three pivotal characters: the vanished Wendy, Stacy Flynn and eventually the bright and curious Alice Piper, who knows Wendy only tangentially through the swim team. The result is a novel of unexpected subtlety, a study in "public and private violence", the troubling criminal statistics on females in America and a society that defines itself in images instead of truth.
For Wendy, the new-found promise of beauty is costly: "A man can only take so much pretty." For Stacy, unravelinging the connections between corporate agribusiness and male entitlement, "paying attention to the obvious became a horror". And for the intellectually curious and gifted Alice, careful examination of the world she inhabits reveals "a disparity between what things are called and what they really are"; she is forced to reevaluate everything she believes. Assuming the resolution would be a mistake, Hoffman balancing predictability with the violence that is endemic to greed, arrogance and the devalued currency of young women in a man's world. Power usually wins, but once in a while monsters are slain and justice triumphs, however briefly. An ambitious novel that veers between environmental politics and the brutal truth of an entrenched way of life, So Much Pretty is not easily forgotten, Hoffman a writer to watch. Luan Gaines/2011.
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So Much Pretty: A Novel by Cara Hoffman (Hardcover - March 15, 2011)