St. Martin’s Press
Thomas Dunne Books
Pub Date: Mar 31 2015
“Pretty Ugly is everything you’d want in a novel: funny, poignant, exceedingly well-written. I look forward to reading it.” —Stephen Colbert
Pretty Ugly is a story of child beauty pageants, trying to live your life through your child, disillusionment, and true love.
Miranda, a minor pageant star in her youth has decided to devote her life into making her daughter bailey the most successful child pageant start ever (128 pageant wins and counting). It’s a task that seems destined to be thwarted both by the competition – in the form of Starr Kennedy and by Bailey herself who at nine is losing interest in the whole thing and binge eating on the side. Whilst Miranda and Bailey spend their weekend’s on the road, husband Ray is at home working several nursing jobs to help fund the pageant life. Ray has the Midas touch around patients – a lot of them die. He has had his hands on 365 people when they died. So, it seems his night time job at hospice is his ideal job. Ray also likes to relax, and by relax I mean in a Nurse Jackie kind of way. He steals drugs from patients bags, tries out any drugs the drug reps bring into the hospital; in fact he takes just about anything he can get his hands on.
Meanwhile at home there are two other children – the two boys. Miranda doesn’t know what to do with boys ‘ I love them…I just don’t have anything in common with them’, so she basically ignores them and allows her god-fearing mother Joan to look after them during the daytime; home schooling them.
What follows is a constantly amusing train-wreck of a story, as Miranda, lies about Baileys age to try and improve her chances of winning, melts down over reality TV, and (literally) fights for the family honour, before discovering salvation is at hand in the guise of a new baby (thankfully another girl). Meanwhile Ray gets a little too friendly with the daughter of a patient, who ends up nursing him whilst also becoming the target of Joan, who is on a mission from Jesus (who speaks directly to her) to rid their lives of evil: “Pull this off Joan, and Ill build you your dream closet. I used to be a carpenter, you know. A good one’
As you might expect from a man who is a producer and writer on Family Guy, there are some laughs to be had in Pretty Ugly. ‘Ray was powerless. Looking away from her perfect teenage breasts would have been as impossible as looking away from a pair of perfect teenage breasts’ Most come from the frankly farcical nature of the situations Miranda and Ray get themselves into. Miranda is without a doubt the star turn though: a wonderful creation, a women who’s shallowness and bitchiness is a sheer delight: “Parents who entered their overweight children in beauty pageants were worse than parents who encouraged their handicapped children to play sport”, or “well honey, not everyone can be blessed with an eating disorder, Miranda said, ‘some of us have to work to stay thin”
This was a book that was fun to read and it is biting at times too when Butler lets rip on the whole child pageant concept: ‘dollhouse of grown women playing with smaller versions of their ideal selves. Fifty scantily clad prepubescent girls scampered about like the main attraction in a Bangkok coffee shop: sexy children marketed as wholesome family entertainment’. We’re never far from the overall creepiness of the whole thing.
Certainly one of the funnier books I have read in a while and a smile rarely left my face. That can’t be bad.