I’ll open this review by saying I have a very low tolerance for books or movies that feature torture. I just don’t want those images in my head. I don’t want to think about the fact that human beings do such depraved and terrible things to other human beings. I don’t want to think about the fact that people’s last hours have been filled with pain and horror initiated by the whims of another person. I don’t even want to think about how an author or director can sit there and conjure up terrible things to do to characters in their books, fiction or no. I am fine with being blissfully ignorant of the depths to which the human imagination can sink.
So, that severely limited my ability to enjoy Pretty Girls because ho boy does it have a lot of torture in it. A lot. The violence met against women in this book is graphic, drawn out and detailed. We get it all: burning, branding, stabbing, electrocution with a cattle prod, being raped WITH a machete, waterboarding using urine, breast mutilation, humiliation. It gets to the point where it’s even hinging on repetitive.
The story starts out promising—it begins with a note from a father to his daughter who vanished after walking home from a bar one night and has since been missing for years. You truly get a sense of the pain and loss Julia’s entire family has gone through in her unexplained absence—her parents’ happy marriage dissolved, her sister Lydia struggled with addiction and her youngest sister, Claire, apparently checked out of life and has become a “kept woman” to her wealthy husband, Paul. As the story opens, Claire’s husband is murdered and while cleaning up his affairs she discovers he may not have been who she thought he was. At the same time she runs into her sister, Lydia, who is trying to piss on Paul’s grave. The sisters haven’t seen each other since they had an argument eighteen years ago, but somehow the pair just bury all that instantly and pick up right where they left off as teens, then set off to uncover secrets that seem to hint at a very large, very elaborate conspiracy together like some crime-fighting duo.
Here is my second problem with this story—the characterizations. Claire loves her husband so so much, but she has no emotions (except occasional bursts of rage and self-pity) and is disconnected from everything. She’s described as a “shell.” (But she’s a REALLY REALLY PRETTY shell, you guys. We need to be reminded of that often. Oh, and Lydia is super pretty, too, but fat. And Julia was suuuuper pretty. I mean, I guess the book IS called Pretty Girls, but like…we get it.) After Claire learns some suuuuper terrible stuff about Paul she struggles because she loves the Paul that was her husband, not this other Paul. I mean, when you hear what the stuff is it’s like…Wut.
And don’t even get me started on Paul. Without making this review rife with spoilers, let’s just say the man is all over the damn place. It was like the author was making a character with all the traits of a cheesy Hollywood multiple personality disorder, but not with the official diagnosis.
My final criticism is that the BIG BAD CONSPIRACY is so ludicrously big and bad that it really challenges my suspension of disbelief that it could have continued seamlessly for as long as it did without being discovered.