Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: "Pretty Ugly" by Kirker Butler

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Kirker Butler's Pretty Ugly leaves no stereotype untouched—pageant moms, philandering husbands, slutty teenage girls, even devoutly religious old women get torn apart in this satire.

When she was a young girl, Miranda Ford won a local beauty pageant. (Well, she didn't quite win, but she eventually got the title.) It changed her life, and when she got married and gave birth to a little girl of her own, Bailey, she was determined to make her a true pageant star in the southeastern U.S. After eight-and-a-half years and more than 300 pageant titles, Miranda is just getting started, but Bailey is tired of sacrificing her life to pageants, tired of parading around in gowns and swimsuits, tired of being judged. Knowing there's no stopping her mother, Bailey starts binge eating in an effort to fatten herself out of contention, but even that doesn't stop Miranda, who is pregnant with another baby girl she has already named Brixton Destiny Miller. (Don't ask.)

Miranda's husband, Ray, has always tolerated her obsession with pageants, despite the financial and emotional toll it has taken on their family. Working two jobs as a nurse and a hospice worker to keep them afloat, Ray pops every random pill he gets his hands on, with often-interesting results. But a growing dependency on nearly every prescription drug imaginable isn't the worst of Ray's problems—his girlfriend, Courtney, the 17-year-old girlfriend of one of his hospice patients, has just found out that she's pregnant.

And then there's Joan, Miranda's devoutly religious mother, who home schools the couple's two sons because Miranda doesn't know what to do with them since she won't enter them in pageants. (Because they'd turn out gay, wouldn't you know?) Joan has frequent conversations with Jesus, and listens to everything He tells her—even when it comes to planning a murder.

Things go from bad—a pregnant Miranda gets into a knock-down, drag-out fistfight with the trashy mother of another pageant contestant while a reality show films it all—to worse—Courtney moves in with Ray and Miranda's family and befriends Miranda, although she plans to destroy everything by forcing Ray to marry her. (She doesn't realize, of course, that Joan—and Jesus—are watching.)

Pretty Ugly is a campy book, part Toddlers and Tiaras, part Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, with a healthy dose of soap opera thrown in for good measure. It's funny in places, ridiculous in others, and I thought the story was drawn out a bit too long, but Butler, a writer and producer whose credits include Family Guy, clearly knows what he's doing.

If you've ever wondered what the people involved in kiddie pageants are like but can't bring yourself to watch a reality show, this is the next best thing. More ridiculous than sublime, it's sure to make you chuckle—and/or offend you.

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