by Cara Hoffman
Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: March 6, 2012
Book received from: Publisher
*There are possible spoilers in this review*
In So Much Pretty, Cara Hoffman sets out to tackle some major social issues of today, including environmentalism, community identity, local farming, socio-economic standing, the effects of violence on individuals, and the intersection of them all. Most importantly, she focuses on the institutionalized culture of violence against women. That is what drew me to this book, as I have worked in the field of advocacy against violence against women for several years. That being said, I respect what Hoffman has attempted to accomplish in her debut effort. It is a difficult issue to tackle, and even more difficult to really convey the complexities of the problem. However, there is too much distraction throughout So Much Pretty, that what it sets out to accomplish becomes devalued.
First off, the writing style is certainly not for everyone. Hoffman gives us multiple character perspectives, while also jumping back and forth along the timeline, inserting snippets of articles, reports, and interviews along the way. The result is a disjointed story that loses the normal connection one seeks with the characters in a book. Perhaps focusing on the three main female characters of Wendy, Alice, and Flynn would have been a much less daunting task. Writing style aside, the story itself sadly sells itself short in many ways.
So Much Pretty follows a town coming to terms with the aftermath of the discovering of a young woman’s (Wendy) body being found after she had gone missing months before. It is discovered that she was held captive by several young men and their fathers in the local factory, subjected to horrifying sexual abuse. In the duration of piecing together what had happened to Wendy, young Alice becomes obsessed with seeking justice for those that had a part in the atrocity. She then sees herself as the sole avenger of Wendy’s death and opens fire in the school, killing those she believed were involved. Flynn, a bored reporter for the town paper, jumps at the chance to cover the story in order to gain national exposure. She uses Wendy for her own means, while using the façade that it is to tell the story of a silenced young woman. In many ways, both Alice and Flynn use Wendy for their own personal gain and lose site of the issues at hand.
Hoffman wanted this work to give attention to the epidemic of silence that surrounds violence against women. However, she falls into the same trap that many others have when attempting to delve into the subject matter: focusing on the sensationalism of it all. Let me state right now that any attention to such a difficult topic adds to the dialog. But, what is delivered here is a story that we would hear about in the news. It is not a crime that is going to go unnoticed, unknown, and be accepted by a community, as it seems Hoffman is implying. If challenging the ideology of silence surrounding violence against women is the point, then giving voice to a woman who is date raped may be more apropos; generally, those most silenced within the system are the “he said, she said” cases that “lack evidence.” Those that fear being judged, those that know the system will not take their case, and those that may not have fully come to terms with what has happened, are the women that have no voice. Yet again, they are silenced by someone who says they want to give them a voice.
So Much Pretty is a book that should be noticed. However, it is my opinion that it does not accomplish what it set out to do. In many ways it falls short, and is derivative of other works that have fallen into the same traps. I believe it has its place in the dialog of sexual violence, but fails to deliver anything difference from what we are already given in other sources. Hoffman has supplied a voice for the cause, I’m just not convinced it is the right voice.
This book can be purchased at Amazon, as well as your local independent bookseller.
For more about Cara Hoffman, go to her website here.