"Sleep had won out at last. We moved through our days in Haeden in a somnolent kind of daze, blithe when our senses called for panic, blind to our deepest fear, even as it lay, naked among the tall weeds, waiting.So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman is centered around the small town of Haeden in upstate New York, where Claire and Gene Piper move after turning down Doctors Without Borders to give their young daughter Alice a better life. Reporter Stacey Flynn has moved to Haeden, planning to cover the environmental tragedies that are going on, but finds herself swept up instead in the search for missing local girl Wendy White. It takes awhile to figure out what is going on, as the novel is not only not chronological, but is also told through the voices of many different characters. However, once the reader has a chance to settle into So Much Pretty they are rewarded with a story that is violent, raw, and powerful.
So Much Pretty has a quiet darkness to it, as Hoffman flashes between events which are only connected later. The reader knows immediately that there is a story revolving around Alice, but it is not until almost three quarters into the novel that they realize exactly what that story is. Hoffman draws the reader into the story by giving small hints and foreshadowing, allowing you to get to know the characters motivations and personalities even if you do not yet know the reason for their feelings. The element of suspense in the novel is expertly done and keeps the reader interested and involved until the very end. However, So Much Pretty is so much more than simply literary suspense, Hoffman delves into major issues, particularly when it comes to violence. What distinguishes the novel most however, is writing which burns its way into the readers mind with its subtle beauty and hint of gloom. One of the most memorable statements for me was when she writes:
"You just knew Haeden was a place that wouldn’t exist as soon as you left. It barely existed while we were there."What surprised me most about So Much Pretty was the skill with which Hoffman addresses complex moral issues in a way which is both intelligent and compelling. However, it was not the kind of book I had a strong emotional connection to; instead it was the kind of book which made me think. At times, I was also slightly confused by the chronology as well as finding there were portions of the book which were perhaps unnecessary. Great detail is giving about Claire and Glenn and what led them to move to Haeden, but I wished Hoffman had focused slightly more on the teenage years of Alice's life as my impression of her then was often indistinct while my vision of her as a young child was quite clear. I also wanted to know more about Alice's best friend Theo, as he ultimately plays a crucial role in the story and yet I only really understand him in relation to Alice. Finally, I felt the epilogue lacked the power of the rest of the book and wished it had been expanded on slightly. Despite these complaints, the novel managed to capture my attention from cover to cover. In So Much Pretty, Hoffman tells a haunting and powerfully written story, a novel full of suspense while offering unnerving observations on violence in small town America.
Release Date: March 15th, 2011
Source: E-galley from publisher
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