(Photo courtesy of Goodreads)
That quote perfectly encapsulates the story of Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica. After reading her debut novel, The Good Girl, I fell in love with Kubica’s style of writing. Finally I’d found a dark & twisted novel that didn’t feel like a stepchild to Gone Girl. (Speaking of…I really did enjoy Gone Girl, but I am so tired of seeing “Fans of Gone Girl, you’ll LOVE this one!” everywhere on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Let. It. Go!) Anyways, when I realized Kubica published a second novel last summer, I nominated it as a “to-read” for my monthly book club. (“Book club” is a loose term – it’s more of a wine/dine club where three longtime friends casually discuss a book and how it compares to their lives, etc. Sometimes we even take prom pics on each other’s staircases…it sounded like a good idea at the time.)
(B to F) Me | Cat | Kylie
We chose Pretty Baby as our December read, so I spent most of my holiday travel time reading it. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement; I had high hopes for Kubica after a strong first novel, but I’m sad to say she let me down. The story centers around Heidi Wood, a depressed woman with a severe savior complex, and Willow, a homeless teenage runaway with a dark and disturbing past. On the way to work every morning, Heidi watches Willow (and her 4-month-old baby) from her seat on the train, slowly working up the nerve to talk to the girl and offer help. Heidi’s innate need to save the world takes over as she invites Willow and the baby in to her home.
Tensions rise between Heidi and her family as Willow becomes a permanent fixture in their pricey, Chicago condo. After clues about Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi ignores them and decides to live in ignorance of the truth. But which truth – Willow’s or her own?
That question makes the book sound more like an “edge-of-your-seat” gripper than it really was…everything from Heidi’s past was given to the reader early on (and then repeated MULTIPLE times), so I never felt the intended anxiety around her character. While I don’t pretend to understand what Heidi was feeling in terms of grief or depression, I can say that I found her coping mechanisms to be childish and selfish. Her neglect of her child and husband in favor of fulfilling her deepest desire really irked me. What happened to her at the end was neither surprising nor upsetting – it was fitting.
Willow’s story was tragic, and my heart hurt for her as I read each flashback of her childhood. I feel Kubica could have done so much more with this character – Willow was set-up to be a complex, multi-faceted character, and I feel she fell flat in the end. Really the novel’s end fell flat in all accounts. Everything was predictable; I never really had that jaw-dropping, stomach-flipping moment I was waiting for…
One of my pet peeves in literary fictions is when the author misses the potential for a great twist. For example, had Kubica tied together all the “loose ends” she left hanging (like Heidi’s best friend or her daughter), she could have crafted the perfect denouement.
All in all, I give the book 2.5 of 5 stars. Fingers crossed that her next book (publishing this May) doesn’t leave as much to be desired…..regardless, I know I’ll be one of the first to devour it.
(Title quote courtesy of Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby)