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Hoffman writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain.
Best Suspense Novel of 2011 - New York 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. Gene and Claire Piper, newly married doctors who worked in a free clinic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, thought they’d escaped the curse of modern civilization when they moved to a depressed upstate town and turned to organic farming. But years later, when their daughter, Alice, is in high school, their neighbors still consider them outsiders. Precociously brilliant Alice is even more of an alien, though she doesn’t realize it until the murder of a local girl makes her aware of the community’s hateful attitudes toward women. For all the passion in this intense narrative, Hoffman writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain. She also shows a mastery of her craft by developing the story over 17 years and narrating it from multiple perspectives. While each has a different take on the horrific events that no one saw coming, the people who live in this insular place remain willfully blind to their own contributions to the deeper causes that made this tragedy almost inevitable.
[A] dark but powerful début novel . . . . Hoffman maps the atmosphere of paranoia that descends on the formerly tranquil town as she moves deftly between its inhabitants . . . the book’s eerily potent conclusion will convince readers that, as Hoffman writes, ‘the responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious.
A haunting suspense novel about a murder mystery based on a real-life missing-persons case
So Much Pretty is harder to pin down, trickier in its aims and delivers a skillful, psychologically acute tale of how violence affects a small town, its tentacles enmeshed so deeply into the collective fabric that it takes the thoughts and actions of one intelligent adolescent to shake things up and force everyone to examine their duplicitous complacency. To say more about Hoffman’s constantly surprising story is to reveal too much, but the payoff is more than worth the slow-building suspense
a devastating look at violence against women and the complicated landscape of vengeance. Disguised as a crime story, it presents the sort of rigorous moral questions that have no easy answers and sear themselves in your memory for a good long time
In this remarkable debut, Hoffman addresses serious injustices in present-day America. In 1992, Claire and Gene Piper, both idealistic New York City physicians, eschew joining Doctors Without Borders and decide instead to move with their gifted two-year-old daughter, Alice, to upstate Haeden, N.Y., to pursue the simple life in the spirit of the ‘60s back-to-nature movement. After nearly two fruitless decades, Gene’s hope of destroying corporate agribusiness in the name of “land and air and autonomy” has left Claire exhausted, in body and soul, and Alice determined to avenge a ghastly crime against all women that she realizes is implicit in Haeden’s smalltown-ghost town mentality. Meanwhile, journalist Stacy Flynn indicts Big Pharm for forcing scientists to manipulate people into doing things the scientists believe are wrong, and factory food production for repurposing the countryside into a toxic-waste site. Hoffman’s doomed characters burn their way off her angry pages. This searing novel will linger long in the reader’s memory
Perspective is a funny thing. It can make a small farm community in upstate New York seem isolating and suffocating for one person, a liberating paradise for another. In Cara Hoffman’s debut novel, So Much Pretty, this jarring disconnect is one of the story’s most intriguing undercurrents. . . . the novel effectively frames a compelling murder mystery with provocative, troubling issues, exploring adolescent violence, the victimization of women, revenge, and societal pressure to favor the good of the community over the rights of the individual. . . . Hoffman ambitiously mines fertile, controversial ground and asks a lot of tough, unanswerable questions; the most heartrending is simply, ‘Why?’
Hoffmann depicts a country in which violence against women is ubiquitous and largely invisible, and where city and country regard each other with incomprehension and disgust...splendidly ballsy...intelligent and gripping stuff.
A spectacular debut: This beautifully constructed mystery, with its engaging characters and intriguing premise, has everything a reader wants...
A mixture of The Lovely Bones and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hoffman’s first novel is a small-town murder mystery with a surprising twist. Haeden, New York, leaves much to be desired for Flynn, the young reporter covering the community beat. But when Wendy White, the local bar maid, goes missing, and Flynn begins uncovering some disturbing local secrets, things get very interesting. Meanwhile, high-school student Alice Piper is facing her own challenges. She’s smart, creative, and quickly outgrowing the small-town mentality of Haeden. Her family encourages her feisty spirit, and her best friend, Theo, is her accomplice in more ways than one. Hoffman’s narrative oscillates between various characters, carefully building suspense, depth, and new insight with every chapter. Let’s hope we will be seeing more of this talented new writer
Cara Hoffman has lived an interesting life. A highschool dropout who wandered around Europe and the Middle East, working odd jobs while most kids are in college, she later climbed her way from newspaper-delivery girl to investigative reporter, covering crime and the environment in rural, low-income parts of upstate New York. Her first novel, So Much Pretty, about a smalltown murder, draws from that experience, as well as Hoffman’s fascination with the ways violence manifests itself in society
The theme of So Much Pretty is innocence lost and idealism gone wrong. . . . In the rundown little town of Haeden, things are never what they seem, as the tone of the novel grows more sinister and a young woman disappears. . . . The pace quickens as Hoffman brings the story to its dark and chilling conclusion. VERDICT: This gripping novel asks readers to judge whether a horrible crime can ever justify a terrible act of revenge. It will engage individuals and book groups interested in debating this tough topic
Hoffman takes on the poverty, drug abuse, environmental disasters and violence against women that are endemic to a small town in upstate New York. And she does it brilliantly, in stark and poetic prose, expressing a variety of viewpoints on the murder around which the story turns. And she does it in a way that lodges in the corner of your mind and just won’t leave. . . . brilliant outsider Alice has a command of logic, a perfect memory and a sense of justice to match. She lives the philosophy that Gene and Claire’s friend Michelle, a Doctors Without Borders physician, likes to quote from George Orwell: ‘The responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious.’ Alice just may be the blonder, less-punk version of Lisbeth Salander, that girl of the dragon tattoo. . . . Everything counts in Hoffman’s toned work, as even the tiniest plot point becomes important to the unfolding narrative. The book, based on a real case that Hoffman covered when she worked for a small upstate New York newspaper, shines a harsh light on violence against women and the men who live within the ugly banality of this evil. Its climactic scenes are simultaneously shocking and inevitable. Pay attention to So Much Pretty. It’s mesmerizing.
This is an impassioned, intelligent and important work of art, and with it Hoffman takes her place in that select group of American novelists including Philipp Meyer and Adam Haslett who, eschewing nihilism and hauteur, write with urgency and passion about what is really going on out there
So Much Pretty is certain to be talked about—not merely because it is a profound meditation on both public and private violence in small-town America, but for its captivating storytelling which draws you in on a visceral level and leaves you feeling haunted, in the best of ways
So Much Pretty is a compelling whodunit, an unnerving portrait of just what the back of nowhere looks like, and an arresting meditation on our culture’s ongoing acceptance of violence against women. It’s powered by both a despairing tenderness and an unflinching rage, each of which, as the novel makes heartbreakingly clear, are more than justified