Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: The Pretty One

Summary: Perfect. Pretty. Political. For nearly forty years, The Hellinger sisters of Hastings-on-Hudson-namely, Imperia (Perri), Olympia (Pia), and Augusta (Gus)--have played the roles set down by their loving but domineering mother Carol. Perri, a mother of three, rules her four-bedroom palace in Westchester with a velvet fist, managing to fold even fitted sheets into immaculate rectangles. Pia, a gorgeous and fashionable Chelsea art gallery worker, still turns heads after becoming a single mother via sperm donation. And Gus, a fiercely independent lawyer and activist, doesn't let her break-up from her girlfriend stop her from attending New Year's Day protests on her way to family brunch.

But the Hellinger women aren't pulling off their roles the way they once did. Perri, increasingly filled with rage over the lack of appreciation from her recently unemployed husband Mike, is engaging in a steamy text flirtation with a college fling. Meanwhile Pia, desperate to find someone to share in the pain and joy of raising her three-year-old daughter Lola, can't stop fantasizing about Donor #6103. And Gus, heartbroken over the loss of her girlfriend, finds herself magnetically drawn to Jeff, Mike's frat boy of a little brother. Each woman is unable to believe that anyone, especially her sisters, could understand what it's like to be her. But when a freak accident lands their mother to the hospital, a chain of events is set in motion that will send each Hellinger sister rocketing out of her comfort zone, leaving her to wonder: was this the role she was truly born to play?

With The Pretty One, author Lucinda Rosenfeld does for siblings what she did for female friendship in I'm So Happy for You, turning her wickedly funny and sharply observant eye on the pleasures and punishments of lifelong sisterhood. -- Little Brown

I can't remember where I saw the raving review for THE PRETTY ONE by Lucinda Rosenfeld (I think it might have been in People Magazine), but I knew I wanted to read it. A witty novel about sibling rivalry? Sounded right up my alley. I decided to pack this book for my trip to Disney last month -- the trip I was taking with my sister. Coincidence? I think not!

All joking aside, my sister and I are close and I don't think we have much jealousy between us. Of course, we are women and there is always some pettiness, but we are nothing like the women in THE PRETTY ONE! These three sisters have not only an uncanny ability to provoke each other, but they also seem to spend much of their time resenting each other.

THE PRETTY ONE tells the story of the three Hellinger girls -- Perri, Pia and Gus. Pia has a young daughter, works at an art gallery, and is the pretty one; however, she is still reeling from the breakup of her true love. Perri is the eldest and seemingly the most together. She is married with children and has a successful business; however, she feels that something is missing in her life and she starts a "text affair" with an old college boyfriend. And then there's Gus, an activist and an attorney who is upset about her breakup with her girlfriend.

When the girls' father is housebound after a surgery and their mother ends up in the hospital after a pretty freak accident, the sisters find that they have to pull together and help out their parents. Maybe it's the stress of the situation, but each sister finds that their lives start spinning out of control. Pia can't stop thinking about her anonymous sperm donor, Perri leaves her family to meet up with her ex, and Gus finds that she is attracted to a man. Through all of this hardship, each sister is forced to acknowledge that the roles they've spent their entire lives playing just might not be who they truly are.

I was expecting to really enjoy THE PRETTY ONE and, for the most part, I did like it. I just didn't love it. I think I might have picked up the book with my expectations a little high. I thought the story was cute and it was definitely funny at times, but I wanted a little more substance. While the sisters were horrible to each other for a great deal of the book, and there is no doubt that their behavior was appalling (and therefore funny!); I kept waiting for the story to take on a more serious tone. And I wanted to be affected in some way by the lessons they learned. Those things never happened. I just don't think THE PRETTY ONE was that type of story.

What I do think THE PRETTY ONE set out to do, and ultimately accomplished, was offer a satirical look at sibling relationships. I certainly hope that there aren't many sisters who are as competitive or resentful of each other as the Hellinger girls were; however, there were certain things that did ring true. I am pretty sure that female readers, and especially ones with sisters, will recognize some of the characters' feelings and actions to be honest; and I appreciated that I could laugh at them.

As far as comical books go, THE PRETTY ONE was funny. In fact, I initially thought it was extremely funny. However,the more I read, the more the humor started sounding the same. Eventually, the tension and snarky comments weren't as funny and some of the humor got a little old. Don't get me wrong, THE PRETTY ONE had plenty of funny scenes and the dysfunctional relationships between the characters were entertaining. I think I just needed a little more substance thrown in to juxtapose all of the funny scenes.

Despite my few issues with THE PRETTY ONE, I still think it would make for a lively book club discussion. I have a feeling that these characters will drive many women mad, but I also think others will relate to them. And if nothing else, rehashing their actions would be a lot of fun. There is a reading guide available with eight questions that will also help stimulate your discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include jealousy, adultery, self acceptance, guilt, secrets, dysfunctional families, responsibility and love.

Overall, THE PRETTY ONE was an entertaining novel and sure to entertain those women who have ever felt that they are at odds with their sister.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Beth F said...

I know this book would not be for me. Too much stereotypical woman as jealous and petty and bickering grates on my nerves.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'd have to agree with Candace. I have one sister, and we certainly had our moments while we were growing up, but there is nothing petty or jealous about our relationship now. But I have friends that have these relationships with their siblings and it gets old quick!

bermudaonion said...

I read a rave review about this one too but I've also read a lot of meh reviews so I've put off reading it. It sounds like a good one to take when I go to the beach with my sister and my mom.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm with the others; I have enough of sibling rivalry in real life! LOL

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

sounds interesting!