As a person living in these times, I am surrounded (and sometimes assaulted) by beauty and reality tv. From Botched (where two doctors who were or were once married to Real Housewives stars fix plastic surgery)to The Swan (where plastic surgery is done on someone to make them beautiful), producers have made beauty intrinsically a part of reality tv. However, it wasn’t until Toddlers and Tiaras that we saw just how ugly the beauty could be. The series, featuring toddlers and their momagers shows the dark and ugly underbelly behind the scenes—it is this world that provides the backdrop for Kirker Butler’s Pretty Ugly.
Bailey Ford is a nine year old, doing all she can to get her mother, Miranda, to allow her to retire from the world of beauty pageants. She’s gained weight and spends her elliptical sessions sneaking chocolate bars. Miranda, pregnant with her second daughter, Brixton (the next pageant queen) has time only to focus on all things pageant. So much so that her husband, Ray, pulls off two jobs, a mistress and a pretty troubling drug addiction without Miranda suspecting anything. Miranda’s mother, Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) spends her days ‘homeschooling’ Miranda and Ray’s two boys via television wrestling and listening to Jesus’ sound advice—because Jesus is the only one who listens to Joan. Suddenly, when Ray’s best kept secrets start to spill into their daily lives, their whole world is changed—but will it be for the better?
For a dark literary comedy, Pretty Ugly takes the cake. Kirker Butler’s writing style is similar to Chuck Palaniuk, but with a bit of Carl Hiaasen mixed in. I did not expect this to be as compelling as it was, but not only was I impressed, I decided to add future Butler titles to my watchlist.
As characters go, the most growth was exhibited by Miranda and Ray’s girlfriend, Courtney. While Courtney starts off the novel as Ray’s 17-year-old mistress, without spoiling anything, she ends the novel very differently. Each of the women were pretty vapid at the beginning of the book, but throughout the course of the novel’s events, they each grow in a believeable and organic way—it is a far cry from their awful introductions.
I expected to feel sorry for the children, especially Bailey. When Bailey voices her request to retire from pageants, she is able to retire (it also helps that Miranda does something pretty awful). The boys, whom have been overlooked simply because of their gender are non-characters in Pretty Ugly.
As previously stated, I would love to read more from Kirker Butler, and am currently looking for something in a similar vein, or in a similar setting.
Thanks to Thomas Dunne Books (St Martins Press), I was given an ecopy to read in exchange for my honest review. You can pick up Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler today at your favorite retailer—it is available in hardcover or ebook form.