So my son asked me how I liked Karin Slaughter’s novel Pretty Girls and I really had to think about my answer. I couldn’t just say “yes” because that isn’t exactly true. I couldn’t say “not really” because that isn’t true either. I read about 300 pages of it last night, turning the pages to get to the end, my skin crawling and my eyes burning.
Pretty Girls is the story of sisters Julia, Lydia and Claire – actually it’s mostly about Lydia and Claire because twenty years back Julia, then 19, went to a bar with friends, and disappeared. Claire is married to Paul, successful architect and doting husband; Lydia is single mom to 17-year-old-Dee. She’s 19 1/2 years sober. Lydia and Claire have been estranged for twenty years, but when Claire’s husband is brutally murdered in a botched alleyway robbery Claire turns to her sister to help her make sense of her unraveling life. And trust me – Claire’s life is about to go belly up, big time.
That’s pretty much all I can tell you about the plot without giving too much away.
The one other voice we hear in Slaughter’s novel is the girls’ father. He never gives up trying to find Julia and keeps track of his search and his feelings in journals. “When you first disappeared,” he writes, “your mother warned me that finding out exactly what had happened to you would be worse than never knowing…’The details will tear you apart.'” She wasn’t wrong.
There’s some bad blood between Claire and Lydia, but soon enough they find themselves in a heap of trouble and they have no choice but to put the past aside. The plot catapults along and if you don’t care too much about the quality of the prose (not that there’s anything wrong with it – Slaughter’s writing is more than up to the task at hand) you’ll fly through the pages unhindered by flowery language. What will give you pause are the gruesome crime details – or maybe not. Maybe we have been desensitized to that sort of thing. I’m not easily bothered, but this book bothered me.
There’s nothing pretty about Pretty Girls. If there is redemption to be had, it comes at a high price for Claire and Lydia and readers will have to have a strong stomach to go along.