First published in March of 2011, US author Cara Hoffman’s debut novel ‘So Much Pretty’ received an almost instantly favourable reception from a host of literary critics, setting the author up well for a hopeful career in writing.

DLS Synopsis:
Haeden is a small remote town on the outskirts of New York, where nothing much really happens and no one seems to ever go anywhere.  Life is slow in Haeden, with the Groot Dairy Development very much the principal employer for the community.

And then, disturbing the otherwise unbroken mundane routine of life in the town, nineteen-year-old Wendy White suddenly goes missing.  Her fiancée Dale Haytes is out of his mind with worry.  Popular consensus is that it was last minute nerves that made White panic and run away.  However, local reporter Stacy Flynn thinks otherwise.

Desperate for a big story that will finally kick-start her flagging career as a journalist, Flynn begins to dig for any possible clues as to what happened to White.  The local police force offer little to no real help, their own investigations turning up zilch.

Meanwhile, Alice Piper has grown up from being a bright and slightly eccentric four-year-old, into a very intelligent but uniquely quirky fourteen-year-old girl.  Growing up in a house with her parents along with a likeminded couple who also subscribe to the Environmental Liberation Front way of thinking, Alice Piper’s upbringing was far from normal.  Her friendship with Theo Bailey blossoms over the years, building into something akin to an often unspoken but deeply loving relationship.

But, when Alice overhears some comments spoken in jest surrounding Wendy White’s disappearance, questions begin to become raised in the inquisitive young girl’s mind.  And when six months later, White’s tortured and starved corpse is found in the nearby woods, having only died a matter of days ago, Alice needs to readjust her thoughts on the matter.

It may not be spoken out loud, it may be swept under the carpet, it may be cast out of people’s minds, but there’s something rotten in Haeden.  Something that needs to be fixed for the good of the community.  Something that needs to be sorted out, efficiently and proactively.  Something that can do longer be left to linger…

DLS Review:
Written in an epistolary structure, Hoffman’s ‘So Much Pretty’ flutters across a multitude of individual perspectives, journalistic interviews and brief police reports, which although predominantly written in hindsight, gradually piece together a picture of what transpired in Haeden.

This constantly shifting viewpoint allows for a broad picture of life in Haeden to be formed; with the handful of characters involved in the tale to tell their own unique stories.  However, Hoffman never really sets down any anchoring feature to these stories, instead jumping onto the next faintly interesting sub storyline without establishing any solid ground for interest or a returning element of interest.

Furthermore, Hoffman fails to really maintain any form of momentum with the delivery of the plot, with meandering substories become increasingly dull and painfully mundane.  Characterisation is initially quite well-formed and nicely developed upon (particularly with the likes of Alice Piper).  However, with little in the way of progression in sight for the storyline, the tale (and characters) quickly becomes uninteresting and unforgivably boring, ultimately resulting in the reader losing any real interest in much of the tale as in trundles along at what can only be described as a snail’s pace.  

The only real saving grace for the novel is with the character of Alice Piper.  Here we have a young girl injected with an exciting and unique energy.  Very much in the same vein as the character of Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s classic novel ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ (1951) or indeed more recently with Kaaron Warren’s character of Stevie Searle from the novel ‘Slights’ (2009); Alice Piper is an exceptional individual with a monumentally colourful personality and instantly likeable quirky traits.

Piper’s involvement in the tale is initially rather puzzling, but later, when her storyline interlaces with that of Wendy White’s murder, the tale finally (and I really mean finally) begins to pick up with mild hints of interest.

The ending is somewhat unexpected for its out-of-character drama compared with the preceding two-thirds of the book.  The action is suddenly reasonably gripping with this spiralling turn of events, concluding with an open ending that simply whimpers out more than finishing on any sort of strong note.

For all its praise and favourable reception, I came away from the novel feeling somewhat baffled.  If truth be told, for the majority of the tale I was veering towards boredom.  The finale was gripping for its short-stinted length, but in no way saved an otherwise slow-paced, muddled and generally directionless story.

Others may like Cara Hoffman’s writing, but for me, I think I’ll probably end up giving this new author a bit of a wide berth.

The novel runs for a total of 336 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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