Title: So Much Pretty
Author: Cara Hoffman
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
When Wendy White decides to stay in her hometown after her high school graduation, she is bucking the trend. But she enjoys her job as a waitress and even has a new boyfriend. But when Wendy goes missing, the small town of Haeden, NY is shocked.
Alice Piper knew Wendy because they had been on the swim team together, even though Wendy was a few years older. Alice was raised by former doctors who idealistically decided that they wanted to live sustainably on land, though they are unable to sustain themselves in practice without the help of Alice’s uncle. This book is about life in a small town, and the lasting repercussions of choices made in an instant.
So Much Pretty is a very vague, fragmentary novel, told over the course of Alice’s life. It’s completely out of order, chronologically; chapters will jump years, even decades, and it’s up to the reader to piece the narrative together. Additionally, there are many different narrators; though Hoffman helpfully and clearly denotes the year and point of view at the beginning of each chapter, the novel makes for a confusing read.
Though the description above may make the novel seem like a mystery, it isn’t. That is one element to the overall book, true, but So Much Pretty is much more than that. For one thing, it’s a searing depiction of life in a small, rural town. The Pipers are idealistic and naïve, and once they settle in Haeden, they realize it’s not what they thought. The town’s economy is driven by one single dairy farm, rather than individual families trying to make their own way. They also are never accepted by their fellow townspeople and are met with suspicion.
The novel also focuses on Stacy Flynn, a reporter who is in Haeden trying to make her big break. She moved to the small town to do a story on the dairy farm, and has stayed in order to find something that will catapult her into the elite level of reporters. After Wendy’s disappearance, she begins digging into the case, in disbelief that the people in Haeden actually claim that someone from out of town, and not one of their own, was responsible for Wendy’s abduction.
So Much Pretty is an slow novel. It moves forward at its own pace, and is vague in many places. Some of the storylines seem underdeveloped, and other aspects (such as the relationship between Alice and her cousin Theo) are hinted at, but never fleshed out. But this haziness gives the story its beauty and grace. While some of the details may be fuzzy, the overall storyline is always clear, and readers are not left hanging by the ending.
This is not a book for everyone. If you’re a fan of beautifully written and disturbing, yet languorous literary fiction, then I definitely think you should pick this book up. If you’re attracted to it because of the mystery storyline, I’m not sure this is the right novel, though – the pace is slow enough to where you may become frustrated with it, especially with the choppy storytelling. So Much Pretty wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed it all the same and am looking forward to Hoffman’s next novel.