A chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies.
She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.
Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
Mary Kubica’s debut, The Good Girl, was one of my absolute fav reads of 2014. I was sure after reading her debut that she’d always have this rare gift of delving into the depths of human psychology bringing out dark, terrifying places in a way that feels organic and entirely captivating.
When I saw Pretty Baby, I so wanted to read it, and I’m thrilled I did. But I can’t say I loved it as much as I did The Good Girl, not because the author did any less brilliant of a job, but because I had a personal issue (reaching total disgust, I will openly admit) with one of the MCs. Namely Heidi. Makes my skin crawl just to mention her or talk about her, that’s the kind of disgust we’re talking about.
But let’s take things one a time, shall we? 🙂
Pretty Baby tells the story of three MCs: Heidi, her husband Chris, and Willow – a girl she sees on a train platform carrying a baby.
The simple facts, if you will, are that Heidi decides to help Willow and that baby. The outcome is that, I feel, she ends up truly helping “Willow” but entirely without intending to. That’s about the only redeeming thing I can mention about Heidi. That and the fact that she seems to care about people around her in the beginning, but only in so much as that care brings her personal rewards of the emotional kind, if you ask me. Bleh. Just disgusting. You know the kind of woman that wants to have babies because that’s how she’ll be sure someone will need and love her unconditionally (especially while the babies are small, when they grow up and begin to think, they cease to cater to that creature’s clingy needs)? That is Heidi. Sure, she went through some traumatic events in her life – boohoo, we all do, I’m sad to say, yet we don’t use that as motivation to become selfish, greedy monsters…at least not all of us, lol, though plenty enough I’m sure we all agree…-. I think it’s pretty obvious that the level of disgust I have for Heidi is an achievement all on itself. I’d dare say she’s everything I hate in a person, in fact, all packed in one wrapping.
Don’t get me wrong, Mary Kubica did an amazing job at constructing and presenting this revolting creature, which is why I so hate her with such passion. You can’t hate poorly constructed characters, just as you’re not likely to love them either. Strong feelings, of any nature, mean that was some fabulous writing. It just so happens the fabulous writing brought forward a terrible emotional experience (but a very good reading one, mind you!) for me when it was Heidi time.
I got Chris, I liked him, I sympathized with him. The often met ostrich strategy when traumatic events happen to someone near and dear, the “let’s pretend it didn’t happen so we’ll move on” strategy. Pretty authentic, and resulting in pretty predictable catastrophic endings. I mean, a lot of people deal with traumatic events in their own way, and despite being scarred and affected, they move freaking on. That’s part of the basics of being a human being, if you ask me. You have to recover from terrible pain and loss, and how graciously you do it makes you or breaks those around you.
Speaking of, “Willow”. Now, had this novel been primarily about “Willow”, her life, the whole thing, living with Joseph’s family, the Matthew thing…it would have been another Bomy Award of Excellence, without a doubt. This girl has been through so much, and she was so easy to sympathize with, and love, and want to help…well, she was all that for anyone except Heidi, because selfish nutjob fail of a creature, but! “Willow”, you’ll understand why the “” there when you read the novel – which I say you totally must, was brilliant. I looked forward to every chapter from her POV, and I particularly loved the ending.
Of course, if I take a step back from the intense emotions reading this novel has generated, and look at things in a more level-headed way, I’d say this is a study of traumatic events and recovering from them (or not actually recovering from them, at times). A study in pain and loss and love, be it twisted, between twisted, broken people, or twisting and breaking people. It’s a great novel that will make you feel, think, love, hate (passionately, in my case, sorry… lol!), maybe forgive (though not much, in my case), and certainly embrace human diversity in all its filthy, disgusting nature. Lol. Like that positive note I ended it in, huh? But it’s true.
There’s so much of human nature that I hate and is part of this novel, that I was shocked. Joseph got what he deserved, if you ask me, and I don’t condone Matthew’s brand of resolving things but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for Joseph, Isaac… Heidi ended up where she was supposed to be, though it broke Chris and probably Zoe’s hearts, “Willow” worked through her issues and things worked out somewhat for he, in a way. I can imagine her having a somewhat happier life, richer, easier on her heart, maybe. I can imagine that because in her genius, Mary Kubica allowed me to via the open ending where she’s concerned. I can imagine Matthew keeping track of her in the future, watching over her like a murderous guardian angel…There’s a romantic tone to the “Willow”/Matthew story, twisted as it may be, and Heidi and Chris do love each other, I think, even if it’s muddled by things they’ve gone through during their marriage. But these stories are as much about pain and loss as about love, though the love is subtler, less in your face. It’s not a romance in any story, but I feel the romantic elements are there by way of the love connections.
And it’s twisted, so very twisted, and so inescapably human, all of it.
There was also some mystery involved, regarding what happened to Joseph’s family, and “Willow”‘s involvement. I really enjoyed that tangent too, and would have loved it to be more in the spotlight.
Pretty Baby is written in first person, present tense narrative, from 3 POVs (Heidi, Chris, and “Willow”). I loved “Willow”‘s voice, and her character too, but while I personally intensely disliked Heidi and her POV made me almost raving mad, I can’t say it was not interesting or intense. I’m not generally a fan of either present tense narrative or more than one POV, but here it worked because of the terrific writing and character study it provided – something I’m a huge fan of, always.
The cover is gorgeous, the presentation doesn’t actually do the drama of the novel justice though it is hooking, but the author name would have made this compulsive buy material anyway, to be honest.
All in all, I highly recommend Pretty Baby if you’re a brave reader, ready to dive into the filth of human nature and absorb part of it as you read. If you’re into dramatic stories of loss and recovery (or lack thereof), into stark, chilling, revoltingly honest looks into tragic stories and how we all handle them, then read Pretty Baby. I cried, I swore, I was outraged, I felt touched, I smiled… it’s not for the faint of heart.
But it’s a spectacular journey.
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