Wednesday, June 15, 2011
SO MUCH PRETTY by Cara Hoffman (2011) Simon & Schuster, 287 pages
Although the present of this gripping and stunning tale is April 2009, the book moves back and forth from 1992 through 2015 over which you learn about events that have shaped the main players: intrepid investigative journalist Stacey Flynn; trained physicians Claire and Gene Piper; their gifted teenaged daughter Alice, "a riddle, a koan"; and, the sweet, family-oriented late bloomer Wendy White.
By using a variety of prose styles from copies of student essays to redacted oral interviews to personal letters to a third-person omniscient narrator, Hoffman drives the plot forward as it intentionally disorients the reader, mirroring most of the characters' experience with the events of early Spring 2009 in a small upstate New York community.
In the Prologue, you realize that the search underway for a missing young woman is problematic, for she could be "someone with blue or maybe brown or green eyes. She could be five foot six or five-eight. Her hair could also be red, could be an unnatural colour like pink or white." And, the narrator suggests, "as we are well aware, it is easy for a woman who fits this description to just disappear."
After "classic country girl" Wendy White doesn't return home one night, the entire town is enlisted to try to find her. They do side-by-side sweeps across fields, "holding hands over the blunt and broken stalks of harvested corn sticking up from the frozen ground." Fifteen year old Alice Piper wonders if this social impulse is "an example of ethical obligation...to care for a resident of our town...part of the greater good."
Five months later, Wendy's corpse is discovered, dumped at the edge of the woods and reporter Stacey Flynn chillingly observes, "White's body, as it turned out, was put to use for months before being found." Flynn shares her observations with Alice, who she has profiled many times before for the Haeden paper, one of the few good news stories in a town rife with problems including widespread unemployment and poverty both literal and spiritual. Both Flynn and Alice know in their bones that whoever murdered Wendy was not a drifter as so many of the locals pretend to believe, but someone in their midst, a longstanding member of the Haeden community.
As Hoffman unfurls detail after shocking detail, be prepared to question your own moral courage. What would you be prepared to risk for a better life for yourself and for others?