Review: Pretty: A Novel by Jillian Lauren
Author: Jillian Lauren
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Rating: 1 bookmark (not my cup of cocoa)
Natalie’s One-Sentence Synopsis: Beth “Bebe” Baker hops a bus out of Toledo bound for California, pinning her salvation on Aaron, a fledgling musician, who drags her down into the primordial ooze of the underbelly of LA.
Clawing her way up from the bottom in the year since Aaron’s death, Bebe is struggling to maintain sobriety and sanity while marking time in a cosmetology program. Physically and emotionally scarred from the car accident that took Aaron’s life, she’s living in half-way house filled with a motley group of ex-convicts and others who are trying to stay clean.
Bebe perpetuates her self-destructive lifestyle, continuing to make bad choices, flout rules at the home, and by refusing to be honest with herself and others. She carries on an illicit relationship with Jake, a paranoid schizophrenic and fellow resident, who is struggling with post-traumatic stress after serving in the military.
Religious themes are rife and heavy-handed–Aaron as her salvation, Jake as a delusional Christ-figure–and Bebe trying to find God in her seemingly godless world. Aaron was too one-dimensional for me–mostly detailed in flashbacks–and it was difficult to understand Bebe’s attraction to him beyond a possible Electra complex (Bebe’s long-dead father was a horn player as was Aaron). There’s also another man from the past–Billy Coyote–who has a Svengali-like hold on Bebe for reasons I couldn’t quite discern.
The big plot reveal isn’t a shock because of the foreshadowing, and the two potentially catastrophic events at the end of the novel fail to have much impact. Stock gay characters–the flamboyant and talented hairstylist friend and the masculine lesbian house-mate–shined, despite being such stereotypes.
A scene in the Ambassador Hotel illuminated Jake and Bebe best but couldn’t salvage this novel for me. I also struggled with the incongruous epilogue. (Semi-Spoiler Alert: highlight area with mouse to see text —->) I couldn’t see Bebe, after minimal progress throughout the book, suddenly finding peace and hope in her mythical San Francisco.
That said, after finishing Pretty: A Novel, I researched Jillian Lauren and learned that she has quite a complex and storied past. Her memoir, Some Girls, tells of the 18 months she spent in a harem in Brunei, and I plan to give that one a try soon.
After learning more about Lauren, I can see how her experiences helped her pen such a bleak and gritty book. As a big fan of non-fiction–memoirs in particular–I think Some Girls will be a better read for me.