Cara Hoffman’s So Much Pretty

I spent today cleaning and working on the quilt (oh, yes, I, too, thought I was never getting back to it, but here I am) and then reading Cara Hoffman’s So Much Pretty. Whew, this is a book like a Mack Truck.  I will say up front that I thought, especially in the first half of the book, that the amount of description was distracting. But I finished it up, sat here for a good five minutes wondering if I felt like the ending was horrifying or thrilling, and then immediately wondered what y’all would make of it.

I read the reviews over at Good Reads, but the folks who hated it seem to have not liked it because of its structure or because of Hoffman’s writing style. I found the structure pretty mindblowingly useful–chapters focus on different characters and are sometimes told in the first person–exactly because it kind of gets at the way you can know something is going on in a small town but not have the ability to quite put it together to really know know it. And I think her writing is fine, beautiful even.


But damn, it’s a rough book. It’s basically about three women–a woman who is abducted and held captive and gang-raped, the newspaper editor who is trying to get at the bottom of what’s going on, and the young girl who tries to get revenge on the rapists.  Hoffman doesn’t go into the terrible details of what happens to the kidnapped gal, but what she does share is terrible enough. And what the young girl ends up doing is… I don’t know. I felt like, on the one hand, yes, good. But on the other hand, that she then gets away with it?

I have to say, it kind of shook me. I mean, I think Hoffman does a good job of kind of showing her as not even not sorry, as not even understanding why what she’s done would be a problem or the suffering her actions would cause, even to her own parents. And, yes, that is how teenagers act. But is it then a happy ending if she gets away?

Why would she stop killing?

But I don’t think that Hoffman necessarily thinks her book has a happy ending. So, maybe being shook is fine. After all, the guys she didn’t get to are having happy regular lives, too.


Anyway, it’s upsetting and disturbing. But it’s something, I’ll say that.

4 thoughts on “Cara Hoffman’s So Much Pretty

  1. I am more than willing to count it as a personal failing that I can’t read books like this. I know it speaks to my lack of courage, etc. But no matter how beautifully written or how well-crafted the work is, if its core is ugliness without hope I just cant spend my time there.

    I know a number of folks who are excited about this book and have been talking it up. Ive seriously considered it. But for me, if the ending doesn’t have some degree of hope (Namond Bryce living and thriving with Bunny Colvin) or contentment (McNulty making peace with being out of the BPD as a living legend) I can’t reconcile the darkness.

  2. Coble, it weirdly does have a happy ending, but I found the happy ending unsettling.

    The Professor and I talked a long time about this at Dairy Queen this afternoon, in part because I was so shook by what happened at the park this morning, and I think Hoffman is an incredible writer. I didn’t particularly care for her treating obesity as a marker of fucked-up-ness, and I think she could have made the same point citing actual illnesses, but I didn’t feel like nitpicking that. Still, it’s noticeable.

    What I said to the Professor is that her skill in honing in on exactly how small town life can go wrong is so spot-on that it’s almost disconcerting–for instance, everyone in town “knows” that the dairy is the biggest employer in town, and thus treats the owners of the dairy like a kind of royalty, even though the dairy has been very automated for years and that automated dairy is producing a lot of water-soaked shit that is then spread all over everything, making everyone, most of all the “royalty,’ smell bad and perhaps be sick, but because of the importance of the dairy to the town’s self image (Home Depot is actually the largest employer), the set-up is never questioned.

    And I thought her handling of the four idealistic quasi-anarchists who want to live on a farm near this town and become organic farmers who then save the town with sustainable agriculture was also spot on. One of the guys goes to work for a pharmaceutical company while the couple with the kid go to live on his aunt’s ex-husband’s farm and the other gal goes to be in Doctors without Borders and the three idealists kind of look down their noses at the pharma dude even though he ends up buying the farm for them and he’s smoothing things over at border crossings for the Doc.

    If not for his job, which they all are constantly demeaning, they would not be able to live their idealistic lifestyles.

    I thought that was really brilliant, too.

    But I will say that, with the exception of it being a nice place to grow up, she doesn’t really do a good job of showing why people would choose to live there other than that they end up too poor to leave.

    And, after a while, I found that frustrating. She gets everything wrong so right, but I just didn’t feel like the end–“vigilante gets happy ending” rang as true..

    So, I’d say that you should not feel bad about not feeling up for it. It’s pretty rough emotionally to get through. Beautifully written, but rough. And not in a torture porn type way, but just because you can tell this is a woman writing about things that enrage and frighten women.

    And I think, even if folks tell you it has a happy ending of sorts, you should be wary about it still, because I think you’d have similar problems feeling like the happy ending was not quite as pat as it was made out to be.

  3. I agree with Katherine Coble. I have a hard time making myself read things so hard anymore. I recoil, internally, viscerally, in a way I absolutely did not before I had my son three years ago.

    I became so much less tough, shed the carapace of a safe distance and engaged, even in very badly written genre fiction, in a degree of sympathy for characters in pain that choked off my enjoyment. (And yet I was one of those girls in high school throwing Faces of Death parties and hanging out in graveyards. Life is funny.)

    So, long way of saying, I doubt I will ever read this book, despite the good writing. But I’m glad you told us about it.

  4. Jess, I think that’s exactly right, really. Like, I’m really glad I read it, but I can’t imagine picking it up again, whereas, with the other book I just finished–Deathless–I can totally imagine wanting to revisit that in the future.

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