When she disappeared from her rural hometown, Wendy White was a sweet, family-oriented girl, a late bloomer who’d recently moved out on her own, with her first real boyfriend and a job waiting tables at the local tavern. It happens all the time—a woman goes missing, a family mourns, and the case remains unsolved. Stacy Flynn is a reporter looking for her big break. She moved east from Cleveland, a city known for its violent crime, but that’s the last thing she expected to cover in Haeden. This small, upstate New York town counts a dairy farm as its main employer and is home to families who’ve set down roots and never left—people who don’t take kindly to outsiders. Flynn is researching the environmental impact of the dairy, and the way money flows outward like the chemical runoff, eventually poisoning those who live at the edges of its reach.
Five months after she disappeared, Wendy’s body is found in a ditch just off one of Haeden’s main roads. Suddenly, Flynn has a big story, but no one wants to talk to her. No one seems to think that Wendy’s killer could still be among them. A drifter, they say. Someone “not from here.”
Fifteen-year-old Alice Piper is an imaginative student with a genius IQ and strong ideals. The precocious, confident girl has stood out in Haeden since the day her eccentric hippie parents moved there from New York City, seeking a better life for their only child. When Alice reads Flynn’s passionate article in the Haeden Free Press about violence against women—about the staggering number of women who are killed each day by people they know—she begins to connect the dots of Wendy’s disappearance and death, leading her to make a choice: join the rest in turning a blind eye, or risk getting involved. As Flynn and Alice separately observe the locals’ failure to acknowledge a murderer in their midst, Alice’s fate is forever entwined with Wendy’s when a second crime rocks the town to its core.
Stylishly written, closely observed, and bracingly unexpected, So Much Pretty leads the reader into the treacherous psychology of denial, where the details of an event are already known, deeply and intuitively felt, but not yet admitted to, reconciled or revealed.
In this remarkable debut, Hoffman addresses serious injustices in present-day America. In 1992, Claire and Gene Piper, both idealistic New York City physicians, eschew joining Doctors Without Borders and decide instead to move with their gifted two-year-old daughter, Alice, to upstate Haeden, N.Y., to pursue the simple life in the spirit of the '60s back-to-nature movement. After nearly two fruitless decades, Gene's hope of destroying corporate agribusiness in the name of "land and air and autonomy" has left Claire exhausted, in body and soul, and Alice determined to avenge a ghastly crime against all women that she realizes is implicit in Haeden's smalltown ghost town mentality. Meanwhile, journalist Stacy Flynn indicts Big Pharm for forcing scientists to manipulate people into doing things the scientists believe are wrong, and factory food production for repurposing the countryside into a toxic-waste site. Hoffman's doomed characters burn their way off her angry pages. This searing novel will linger long in the reader's memory.
I try not to give FIVE STARS lightly, but, when judging within the genre of the book, you don't really have a choice with this one. There was great usage of jumping back and forth through time, to reveal the story, and the motivations behind it. This is how, when one reflects on one's own mysteries, things are truly revealed in our own lives. Jumping back and forth as pieces of it become relevant and provide us with clues to our own actions.
Cara Hoffmann succeeded, not only in delivering a tension-filled plot, but also got you from A to B believably. Once you start to get an inkling of what is going to happen, you wonder how it's going to happen. Most authors settle for a deus ex machina, but SO MUCH PRETTY gets you there believably and organically. I also really liked the usage of "real-life" documents and interviews interspersed within the narrative to add authenticity. When writers can do this effectively, straight-forwardly, it really makes you forget that this isn't really happening. This was done to good effect in WORLD WAR Z.
Also, concerning the New York doctor clique, and the reasons for some of them moving to the country, could have been too political, too much of a "message" to insert in a book, but these passages and glimpses stemmed from such a real intelligence and character background, that they contributed to the story. To effectively weave these ideologies in, unlike John Twelve Hawks Traveler Trilogy, is also masterful. Thanks for the ride!