Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: Pretty Ugly: A Novel

Pretty Ugly: A Novel
Pretty Ugly: A Novel by Kirker Butler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The debut novel of TV writer and producer, Kirker Butler (Family Guy, Cleveland Show, The Neighbors, Galavant) tackles the world of beauty pageants for children. It focuses on the Millers, a misfit family from the south, whose mom Miranda, has delusions of grandeur for her increasingly disinterested daughter, Bailey. Bailey has had a string of successes on the pageant circuit (which Butler humorously details throughout the novel with details about the decidedly adult prizes she has won, including the name and location of the pageant), but has become so frustrated with the demands placed on her that she is purposely gaining weight and not following the exercise routine her mother has laid out for her. Meanwhile, back at home, Miranda's husband Ray is trying to stave off their ever increasing debt and his own personal demons by working two jobs. One as a nurse at a hospital where he makes a hobby of acquiring and taking any free medication he can find (regardless of its prescribed use) and at a hospice, where he falls under the spell of Courtney, an underage granddaughter of a patient who has a devastating surprise for him. Miranda's mom Joan stays home with Miranda's two boys and homeschools them, while following the instructions of Jesus, who speaks to her directly.

Butler's TV legacy led me to believe he might go for the easy jokes at the expense of a world that most of us ridicule, but he actually turns these characters into real and likable people. While he doesn't go easy on mocking the rituals and destructive nature of these pageants, Kirker, a Kentucky native, nails the small town dreams and hardships of the people in the area.

I enjoyed Pretty Ugly greatly. It was not the madcap romp I expected, but instead pulls its humor mostly from the details and sharp observations Butler spreads throughout the book. Butler manages to take this group of misfits with some terrible misdeeds and make us care about what happens to all of them. Highly recommended.

(NOTE: I received a review ARC of the book from Netgalley.)

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