Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman

So Much Pretty weaves the stories of Wendy, a young woman who disappears from a small town; Stacy, a reporter who becomes obsessed with the case; and Alice, a fifteen year old girl who becomes involved in the case in a shocking way.  It is intended to be a look into domestic violence and the secrets covered up in small towns.

No issues with the author's style or the editing.  I did, however, think the author had too many issues going on in the story.  We have multiple narrators (at least six) and so many pertinent issues are discussed that the book lost its focus.  Instead of being able to focus on the main topic, which is very timely and appropriate, we're also dealing with the industrialization of farming communities, dirty pharmaceutical companies and their human testing, urban flight, and rural poverty.  It's too many issues.  They're all relevant and interesting, but the book is only 304 pages.  Between that and the constant changes in narrator, nothing felt fully fleshed out.  It was like we only got brief glimpses of each part of the story. 

I will say that the topic of domestic violence, particulary violence perpetrated by someone the victim knows, was a huge plus to me.  The Reading Ape recently posted on some rape/sexual assault themes he sees in fiction and I commented to add that in fiction, sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone the victim doesn't know.  The "bad man" hiding in the shadows.  But in real life, sexual assault is almost always perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  So I appreciate the author going against the grain and depicting real life.

Unfortunately, I also had an issue with the depiction of sexual assault in the book as a reflection of "real life".  Spoiler alert: don't read the next portion if you don't want to know what happens.  This is revealed maybe halfway through the book.

What has happened to Wendy is that her boyfriend kidnapped her and holds her hostage for several months as a sex slave for him and various other men in the small town.  To me, this is not believable.  I feel fairly comfortable talking about small towns.  I live in a very small town.  I went to college in a very small town.  I know I'm talking rural South and the book is set in the rural North, but I'm goign to guess that rural small town life is similar.  I had a very hard time believing that there were this many perverts who would keep a girl they have known since she was a child locked in a basement, starving, as a sex slave.  I know this kind of stuff really happens, and I'm not denying that perverts live in small towns.  I'm just amazed that a large group of them would happen to live in this small town, with the same pervy fetish, and would perpetrate it in on someone they have known since birth.  And no one would talk.  Because believe me, it would not shock me to find out some man in Arkadelphia had a girl hidden in his basement.  But I would be surprised to learn that a group of men, ranging from grown adults who had watched the girl grow up to high school students would all be into this and no one would talk about it ever and it would just blow over.  Maybe I'm wrong. (see update to the post at the bottom - turns out I'm wrong).


I enjoyed the book.  The above mentions made it somewhat less enjoyable because I found it hard to concentrate on one theme and the whole believability.  There's also a minor sex scene (not related to the abuse) that struck me as phsyically impossible.  Those kind of things are distractions that take me out of the story.  Instead of being immersed in the author's world, I'm thinking "is this actually possible?"  However, I did enjoy the way that small parts of the story were revealed throughout the book, which did keep me reading.  It's not a hard read, and the topic is an interesting take on the typical "thriller" genre. 

Overall I'd probably not recommend it.  I really appreciate that the author is depicting sexual violence from a person the victim knows, rather than continuing to portray the myth that most sexual assulat is perpetrated by a psycho lurking in the bushes.  But I think there are other books that are more focused and stick to believable.  I'd say your time is better spend on something like If I Am Missing Or Dead (non-fiction), Such a Pretty Girl (YA), or The Kindness of Strangers (adult fiction).

UPDATE: A commenter left this link in the comments section, but I wanted to add it up here as well in case you don't look at the comments.  I am apparently more naive than even I had imagined and this kind of thing really does happen, even in small towns where everyone knows everyone.  Read the article here, but know that it is heartbreaking: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/us/29texas.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hp

I still recommend the books listed above rather than this one because of my other issues with the book, but I do want to ammend what I said previously about the believability.


  1. Hmmm, thanks for the honest review. I just noticed this one this week and was intrigued. I will pass because I do have your YA and Adult Fiction books on my TBR list.

  2. I meant to say I don't enjoy the unbelievable/impossible also, sometimes pisses me off even and then I can't stay focused on the story.

  3. I would love to hear what you think of them when you read them! The Kindness of Strangers in particular is one of my all-time favorites. It is hard to read, but worth it.

  4. In the trailer/interview for the book, Cara Hoffman explains that the crime depicted in this book is based on a real-life case that she covered as a reporter in her 20s...

  5. I read that interview today - the one on the Simon and Schuster site? I'd love to know what case. And it's not that I don't believe she based it on something that really happened, but I'd be interested in knowing the real story and how much of it was changed for the purposes of the book.

  6. Here's Cara Hoffman's blog post about it:

    It includes a link to the New York Times report on the real event...

  7. Char, Thank you so much for the link. I've actually updated my post ont he book and included the link to the NYT article. It's heartbreaking to know that this happens in places where you least expect it.

  8. I agree. Knowing that is was paused on a true case made the read so much more haunting.