September 28, 2015

Book Review: Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Publication Date: July 7, 2015

Source: Vine

Everyone thought we were dead. We were missing for nearly two months; we were twelve. What else could they think? –Lois

It's always been hard to talk about what happened without sounding all melodramatic. . . . Actually, I haven't mentioned it for years, not to a goddamned person. -Carly May

The summer precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were twelve years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in a cabin in the woods for two months by a charismatic stranger. Nearly twenty years later, Lois has become a professor, teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York, and Carly May is an actress in Los Angeles, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie with a shockingly familiar plot draws the two women together once more, they must face the public exposure of their secret history and confront the dark longings and unspeakable truths that haunt them still. Maggie Mitchell's Pretty Is beautifully defies ripped-from-the-headlines crime story expectations and announces the debut of a masterful new storytelling talent.

Pretty Is isn’t a conventional, edge-of-your seat thriller with a twist to amp up the suspense. If there is a twist, it has to do with what happened in the cabin in the woods all those years ago between the two girls, Lois and Carly May, and their abductor, the handsome and enigmatic Zed. Although Lois and Carly May were eventually rescued and returned to their parents the circumstances of their abduction still haunt them even into adulthood. The narrative skillfully alternates between Lois, now a novelist and English Lit professor, and Carly May, a B-list actress. The book circles intriguingly around the truth, revealing some details, withholding others as Lois and Carly May grapple with the aftermath for the first 100 or so pages.

Then, just when the reader’s curiosity is at its unbearable peak, Pretty Is goes deep into the woods, with text from the book Lois wrote about that summer, veiled as a novel. Which is fact and which is fiction? The reader is forced to ask. What really happened? Why did Zed abduct them?

Not all of the reader’s questions are answered by the end; however, there is a satisfying sense of resolution and closure.

Multi-layered, complex, and engrossing, Pretty Is is an unexpected and different kind of “thriller.”

Maggie Mitchell has published short fiction in a number of literary magazines, including the New Ohio Review, American Literary Review, and Green Mountains Review. Originally from upstate New York, she now lives in Georgia with her husband and cats. Pretty Is is her first novel.

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