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Book Review – Pretty by Jillian Lauren

Synopsis:  Bebe Baker is an ex-everything: ex-stripper, ex-Christian, ex-drug addict, ex-pretty girl.

It’s been one year since the car accident that killed her boyfriend left her scarred and shaken. Flanked by an eccentric posse of friends, she is serving out a self-imposed sentence at a halfway house, while trying to finish cosmetology school. Amid the rampant diagnoses, over-medication, compulsive eating, and acrylic nails of Los Angeles, Bebe looks for something to believe in before something–her past, the dangerously magnetic men in her life, her own bad choices–knocks her off course again.

First Line:  “How I got here the long version is a longer story than I want to tell.”

Random Quote:  “It is me, by the way, who eats all of Violet’s food.  Late-night compulsive binges where I sit on the floor with someone else’s labeled jar of peanut butter and a spoon until there is no thought and no me anymore, there is nothing but eating.  Every night I vow to stop and every next night there I am again.  I don’t confess.”

Review:  When I was a little girl I used to tell people that I wanted to be an adventuress when I grew up.  I’ll admit that I was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich movie – Morocco (1930) – in which she plays a night club singer (Amy) who falls in love with Gary Cooper‘s character (Tom), a private in the French Foreign Legion.  Although she is engaged to Adolphe Menjou‘s character (La Bessiere – a wealthy Frenchman), Amy realizes at the end of the film that she is truly in love with Tom.  The film ends with her walking off into the desert, following the French Foreign Legion.  Directed by Josef Sternberg, this film and Dietrich’s character struck me as having all of the doomed romance a girl could ever want.  Later there was Lady Brett Ashley (The Sun Also Rises), Greta Garbo in The Green Hat/A Woman of Affairs and Camille, and any number of other women who made unconventional choices in search of love and adventure.

Are We Good? An Evening of Stories about Apology, Redemption, and Outright Begging For Forgiveness Ms. Lauren’s first novel, Pretty, is much in keeping with this tradition, although as it plays out in its more modern form.  Reminiscent in ways of Prozac Nation, in today’s world we are more easily confronted with the reality of the aftermath of a life of adventure.  Sure, following the sexy jazz musician out of the club, onto the tour bus, and into the night is all about adventure, but just as the aftermath of the other imagined adventures in my fantasy life is suboptimal, Bebe’s aftermath is equally fraught with the consequence of poor choices. Later in life I rethought these women as role models.  I still love the notion of an unconventional life filled with risk-taking, but the consequences of certain kinds of risks seem stark and uncompromising.  What happens to Amy in the desert in her high heels and cocktail dress?  Both the Garbo characters end up dead and Lady Brett Ashley becomes ever less appealing as you re-read the book in adulthood.  It’s hard to make unconventional choices and not end up crazy, dead, or alone with a lot of cats for company.

For all its consequences played out across the novel, Pretty manages to be surprisingly hopeful.  You can learn to make better choices or at least to live with the consequences of the risks you take – regret optional.  Adventure can be found in many different places and men don’t always have to be unavailable and bad for you.  I liked Bebe, flaws and all, and I liked her story.  As with the other fictional ladies I admired she takes her chances and isn’t afraid to pay the toll, but best of all is that she is equally unafraid to face life on the other side of the risks.

Jillian Lauren is appearing on a panel this evening at LitQuake in San Francisco:

October 10, 2011, 8:00 PM
Verdi Club
2424 Mariposa St.
$15 advance or at the door

Go see her – she has things to say and says them without apology or cliche.  She can write.  Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

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