I’ve never been one for feminism. This probably has something to do with the fact that I’m a white heterosexual male. In most feminist philosophies, people like me are the bad guys. We’re the ones who do these horrible things to women. What I’d like to tell most feminists is that there are all sorts of bad guys (and bad girls) and just maybe, a bad thing is a bad thing regardless of what genders are involved. However, there’s a problem with that. The problem is that the feminists aren’t entirely wrong.
I picked up ‘So Much Pretty’ knowing it was about men brutalizing women, knowing it was written by a woman, and knowing that someone like me was probably the bad guy. While there’s truth to all of that, Cara Hoffman’s novel goes far beyond my preconceptions. She takes us into a small town in upstate New York and by the time she’s through, you feel like you’ve walked these streets and know this town far better than you want to. It’s the creepy uncle of America and what’s more disturbing is that you know that there are a lot of creepy uncles out there.
So Much Pretty is told in fragments. It’s as if you’ve been given a folder of relevant information that you have to put together in your head. This sort of narrative is difficult to pull off, but very rewarding when it works, like putting together a puzzle without knowing the picture.
There are invisible lines drawn in this novel. It talks about how the brutalizing and dehumanizing of women has become entertainment. Yet, it’s a novel that involves the brutalizing and dehumanizing of women. This is something I touched on a few months ago about the TV show Criminal Minds. Dead pretty girls have been the focus of both entertainment and news stories for a very long time. From the Black Dahlia to AMC’s The Killing to Cara Hoffman’s own beautiful and doomed Wendy White.
You’d be mistaken though if you thought that all Cara Hoffman was going for here was entertainment. She’s trying to show you something. And yes, you’ve seen the small town with the dark underbelly. And you’ve seen the spoiled rich boys who can do anything they want. And you’ve seen so much of these elements play out before in novels, comics, movies and television. That’s what makes So Much Pretty so impressive because you haven’t seen these elements handled like this before. The third act of this novel plays out the way all great storytelling does; it’s unexpected and inevitable. So Much Pretty is the first novel in years that I’ve read and was unable to put down. If you read novels, you should read this one.
– Jack Cameron