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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rural Idiocy (3.5*s), March 24, 2011
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This review is from: So Much Pretty: A Novel (Hardcover)
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 young, overworked doctors in NYC, moved to Haedon, NY, for "back-to-the-land" ideological reasons: environmentalism, grow-your-own-food, escaping the corporate medical system, etc. There, they have raised an extremely attractive, gifted - physically, mentally, and socially - daughter Alice, who they keep insulated from consumerist culture, but not from an ability to articulate an understanding of the depredations of capitalistic society. The Piper's have been tolerated for a number of years until the day of a shattering event.

Though there is a certain satisfaction from living in the countryside, the pervasive unimaginativeness of the locals is distressing, especially to Claire. Surprisingly, they discover a lack of genuine community. The economy is dominated by big-box stores and one huge dairy farm - the owning family being foremost among the town's elite. An inconvenient problem, widely suppressed by tacit agreement, is that the farm is a huge producer of chemical wastes, which seep into the ground water of the area. That situation has brought Stacy Flynn to Haedon from Cleveland, where she was an award-winning journalist, to produce the local paper. Though she tries to conceal her mission of exposing environmental degradation, the locals are quite leery of her - she seems like a troublemaker. As it turns out, that is not the big story that falls into her lap.

Virtually all teenagers leave Haeden after HS, based partly on a grass-is-greener on the other side philosophy, but not Wendy White. She enjoyed the familiar surroundings and staying in contact through her job as a waitress at a local tavern. Her life definitely took an upwards turn when the oldest son of the dairy owner, Dale Haytes, took note of her maturing good looks and started regularly dating her. That is why it was so strange when she simply disappeared. When her abused body is easily spotted five months later - obviously just being placed there, Stacy, having been obsessed with the disappearance all this time, produces a devastating article on the high rate of unacknowledged abuse directed towards women in rural America.

Though several years younger, Alice knew Wendy primarily as a past member of the top-notch Haeden HS swimming team. Alice's extraordinary perceptiveness is kicked into high gear upon Wendy's discovery and Stacy's article. She puts together bits and pieces of conversations and behavior that she has overheard or observed in the last several months and realizes that she knew more about Wendy's disappearance than she could express at the time. Now she is on a mission of exposure, if not revenge.

The book is both compelling and vague - too much swerving among characters, actions, and themes. Some of the characters are potentially interesting, but they all remain obscure. Even Alice's relationship with her cousin, friend, etc, Theo, is sketchy, and at times ethereal. The book is definitely a sobering take on the desirability, even possibility, of even the well-intentioned fitting into a smallish rural community.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 5, 2011 9:29:03 AM PDT
Lulu says:
This is not a review, it is a summary of the book! I'd have been seriously pissed if I hadn't already read it!

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2011 10:22:54 AM PDT
J. Grattan says:
Actually there are several reviews that have far more in the way of details. Most of my sentences are of the overview type. Actual details are in short supply. Since you read the book, you know that.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2011 10:29:56 AM PDT
Lulu says:
I agree, lots of people end up giving too much of the story away on this site. Actually, I sometimes think the book flap gives more away than I would like! I agree 100% with your first and last paragraphs though, and stand by my assertion that too much of the story is given away in between. To those who have yet to read the book, some of your statements could be construed as the dreaded "spoiler."

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2011 10:40:59 AM PDT
J. Grattan says:
I have written almost 700 reviews on Amazon. It is a fine line between writing a review with enough content to inform the reader or the empty type that basically say "I recommend" as though the reviewer is an acknowledged authority. In your opinion, I crossed the line. In mine, I came up next to it. There is plenty I did not mention including all of the key actions toward the end of the book.

Posted on Jan 2, 2012 3:16:25 PM PST
P. Ducey says:
Hello J. Grattan........I apprecieated your review as I was grappling with these characters and the shifting of time. Apparently the author had an agenda. What was your take on the character of Alice? Overall, as a 60-ish woman, I could not relate to Gene or Claire or Ross. Pat

Posted on Jan 3, 2012 3:08:19 AM PST
J. Grattan says:
I've gotten a bit rusty on the book. I recall Wendy, Stacy, and Alice as all being somewhat appealing. The last of the book did swerve off into the implausible.
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