So Much Pretty is Cara Hoffman's first novel. She grew up in rural New York, where the book is set.
The Story: A beautiful young woman who goes missing is a familiar starting point for mystery stories in America. What's different about So Much Pretty is that the novel's story is just as much about how the rural community of Haeden, New York, reacts to the disappearance over nearly two decades. A local reporter hopes to use the story to make her name and then leave town. For two newly married doctors from Manhattan who had hoped to move to the small town for a better life, the reaction of the townspeople reinforces their status as outsiders. Finally, years later, the couple's precocious high school age daughter Alice is drawn to the puzzle of the disappearance--perhaps to her own peril.
Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. $25. 9781451616750
Globe and Mail (Canada) "A spectacular debut: This beautifully constructed mystery, with its engaging characters and intriguing premise, has everything a reader wants, including an unusual setting." Margaret Cannon
NY Times Book Review "In her fearless first novel, So Much Pretty, Cara Hoffman demolishes our illusions about country life by addressing the problems of poverty, domestic abuse, teenage violence and environmental damage that are threatening to destroy the small communities of rural America. ... She also shows a mastery of her craft by developing the story over 17 years and narrating it from multiple perspectives." Marilyn Stasio
NPR "[A] haunting, gloomy novel that defies genre--it is one part crime thriller, one part ambitious novel, one part prose poem. ... So Much Pretty raises questions about denial, violence against women and when a citizen should speak up, even if it puts another at risk." Rachel Syme
New Yorker "When issues--violence against women, pollution, denialism--surface, Hoffman's writing tends toward diatribe. But the book's eerie finale delivers the most potent message, showing that in any community the ‚Äòresponsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious.'"
Reviewers of mystery and mainstream fiction alike were drawn to So Much Pretty for Hoffman's elegant writing ("a restraint that makes poetry of pain," notes the New York Times Book Review), the way in which she integrates her missing-person plot with observations of rural New York, and her multiple perspectives that explore the main event over 17 years. Though many of the elements of the plot are conventional, these elements make the novel distinctive. While some critics felt that the book's observations of the issues of small-town small-mindedness and environmental destruction are a bit heavy-handed, overall reviewers strongly recommended this author's first book.