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Was She Pretty? Hardcover – October 31, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Illustrator Leanne Shapton's debut reads like a graphic-novel-cum-children's-book: each spread includes one or more scratchy, b&w line drawings plus short, facing-page, poetryesque texts. Its content, though, leans much more toward Sex In the City than Shel Silverstein, exploring conflicting feelings aroused in women by their boyfriends' ex-lovers. It's narrated (and drawn) by a sharp but weary onlooker who is very intimate with all the principles, who seem to form a loose circle of friends. A picture depicting "one of the women Len used to know" shows a dour, hot, tight-sweater-wearing woman who is summed-up with deadpan wit: in one sentence, she's "an opinionated academic," in the next, it's revealed, with barely concealed jealousy, that "She wore braces and they looked fantastic." Shapton also captures a complex brew of nostalgia, lingering attachment, relief, rage and intoxication harbored by the men: they keep letters, hairclips, phone numbers—and are occasionally also honest with themselves. In a serial description of Margaret's adventures reading her boyfriend Scott's journals, which deatail his past relationships, "Scott described seeing Diane on the subway with another man, and feeling jealous, but sorry for the man." Diane looks very mean, and the book is pitch perfect from start to finish. (Nov.)
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"Shapton's Was She Pretty? explores that painful behavior that we just can't seem to quit with thoughtful sketches that cut right to the heart of how we love."―XO Jane
"Deceptively complex and uncommonly elegant, Was She Pretty? is a series of gorgeous line drawings, most of men and women...Together, these brief encounters with the other tell a story about the difficulty of accepting that those we love have loved before ― and of recognizing the ugly truth that they may love again."―Jacob Brogan, Washington Post
"It is exactly as devastating as when it was originally published. In as little as three sentences, Shapton can tell us everything a current lover thinks they know about the former."―Haley Mlotek, National Post
"In just a handful of words or a flick of the pen, Shapton stabs you in the gut, bleeding out the pettiness that pulses below the surface of the skin typically hidden behind a thin membrane of decorum." - Fashion
"... timeless, cosmopolitan art and elegant ... prose"―Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire
"Was She Pretty? is a great read if you want a voyeuristic tour of other people’s exes, and it may even help you through your own jealousy."―Madeline Raynor, Bust
"Shapton quietly plumbs all the familiar trappings of the guilty fascinations we develop with those who came before."―Lauren Oyler, Broadly--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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That's what this book is like.
Was She Pretty? deals with the insecurities all current boy/girlfriends feel about the ones who came before them. Even if the relationship is long gone, there's something about the fact that the person you're with has a past that was separate from you that's somehow intriguing, and most of us are more than a little curious about who came first.
The book is an illustrated story with short vignettes about couples, their exes, and the details that remain to plague the current flame. One woman has an emergency at her boyfriend's house and finds (to both her horror and delight) a half-empty box of tampons. There is the man who will never let his current girlfriend answer the phone in his apartment, and you can just tell she thinks it's because of the ex. These tales are all short, a few lines at the most, but tell a story in just a few sentences. They are further illustrated with the author's drawings to develop the point.
I recently read, and enjoyed, Audrey Niffenegger's illustrated novel The Adventuress. It's the closest thing I could liken to Was She Pretty?, though even that comparison is a stretch. Was She Pretty? is an interesting book and will take no time at all to read. If you've been that guy or girl, the distrustful or openly curious one who can't just let the past be the past (and I think we all have at some point or another), it's worth it to see someone put those feelings into words and then illustrate them so candidly.