So I started writing a summary for Lucinda Rosenfeld’s The Pretty One: A Novel about Sisters, but it became so convoluted that I just can’t do it, and I’m going to totally throw in the towel and give you the publisher’s description. Trust me: it’s better this way.
“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. 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?” (Goodreads)
Sisters. Is there a more complicated but meaningful relationship in the world? Many authors have discussed this complex dynamic with varying levels of success — and being the oldest of two girls myself, I’m often drawn to tales of sisterhood and its many incarnations.
I went into The Pretty One hoping for an entertaining, thought-provoking examination of family — and while I got that in small bursts, those moments were few and far between. I found Rosenfeld’s novel to be a fairly depressing mash-up of stereotypes that didn’t shed any light — or delight — on her twisty, ambivalent characters.
I finished it, but mostly because I was stranded at an auto body shop. For three hours.
My major beef: I found every woman in this novel to be unlikeable, selfish or clueless. Not once did I feel warmth toward Gus, Pia or Perri — though Gus was generally the least loathsome of the trio. Perri’s pursuit of perfection became tiresome, and the points at which I think I was supposed to feel empathy — like during her emotional breakdown, say — I just shook my head. Pia seemed lost in her own world, oblivious to anyone else’s problems, and Gus’s brief dalliance with a dude was ridiculous. In each and every dynamic, something was missing.
I might have been able to cling on and push this one up to a 3-star rating (Rosenfeld’s writing is solid) if this whole weird subplot hadn’t erupted late in the novel. In an effort to not blow that out-of-nowhere revelation wide open, I won’t say much more — other than to acknowledge that while I understood the goal of forcing the sisters to reevaluate their traditional family roles, it came off as forced and completely unrealistic. At that point, the book really jumped the shark.
Oh, there were a few moments of clarity in The Pretty One . . . and I did enjoy the pursuit of discovering the identity of Lola’s father. But overall, lack of emotional connection to the Hellingers made this feel like half a book. I would have loved to explore Carol and Bob’s relationship — now that is a story — but wasn’t given that opportunity. Instead, the cheating and lying and cursing and “I’m never speaking to you again!” nonsense that typically runs rampant in homes with teenagers left me feeling cold. These were grown women, after all.
2.5 out of 5!