So Much Pretty – Cara Hoffman

I rarely pick up a book randomly anymore, but So Much Pretty was calling my name. Not only was it calling my name, it actually jumped the pile instead of languishing on my bookshelf for months and months. Still, despite the endless glowing praise I had a hard time settling into the book. Perhaps it was the time of year I started to read it – late June, when school is busy. I took the book with me on a family holiday and while the kids were swimming, I sat on a beautiful screened porch and lost myself in Cara Hoffman’s small-town drama.

Told from multiple perspectives, So Much Pretty flips over the small town of Haeden, NY and exposes its creepy underbelly. When the body of a missing teenager, Wendy White, is discovered in Tern Woods, it kick starts an examination of several lives particularly Flynn, the brittle newspaper reporter and  Claire and Gene and their daughter, Alice, transplants from NYC. The book also includes police reports and interviews. In this way, the book is difficult to navigate at first. It really deserves to be read in one sitting because once I made time for it, it really wouldn’t let me go.

Although there is a horrific crime at the center of this book, the real crime has more to do with the ways in which people are often complicit.  Parents misreading their children; neighbours turning away from each other; individuals looking for the spotlight. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, making sure the reader understands all the players and their connections, but I feel like I missed a lot of clues – no, not even clues – signs that things were not quite right in Haeden because my mind was occupied trying to figure out how Alice was connected to Wendy. I got it horribly wrong, btw.

There are questions to be answered here, but Hoffman’s  feelings are opaque. She masterfully navigates all the pieces, but I never got the preachy feeling I often get with, say, a Jodi Picoult novel. The bulk of what happens to Wendy is left to the reader’s imagination, and her fate is far worse because of it. This would be a fantastic book club pick because of the inherent opportunities  for discussion. So, while it took me a bit to get into, I ended up loving So Much Pretty. Its copious praise is well-deserved.

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