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So Much Pretty

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  3,191 ratings  ·  742 reviews
The Pipers are a family built on optimism. Claire and Gene moved with their precocious, beguiling daughter Alice to Haeden, New York for a fresh start. In doing so, they unwittingly re-write the story of her life.

Wendy White has strong roots in Haeden, a late-blooming young woman, mindful of family and home. Her story has a beginning and an end, but is missing the most imp

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Simon & Schuster
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3.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,191 ratings  ·  742 reviews

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Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: free-from-work

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thank goodness for paul tremblay.

i went to a reading last week to celebrate his wonderful A Head Full of Ghosts and to bask in the glory of hearing him read aloud as the "me-character." also on the bill was cara hoffman, who read a bit from Be Safe I Love You and then had a little onstage conversation with paul about books and process and all that good stuff. and while i own both of her novels, i'd never read her. the stories had both intrigued me, so i grabbed them when they c
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dark, crime, weird
Wew.... some book. Took some getting into for me. Even put it away for some time, I see now I first started it in January. But when you get into it... creepy. Proud I saw it through and... it is worth it in the end, really.

They are looking for someone with blond or dark brown hair. Someone with blue or maybe brown or green eyes. ... Searches peaked in the spring and summer months and they are looking for her still. As we are well aware, it is easy for a woman who fits this description to just di
Apr 07, 2011 rated it liked it
This was not an easy book to get into. There are multiple points of view as well as several time frames so the reader must pay strict attention in order to move with the story. A girl disappears. A reporter thinks she has an idea about the disappearance but she is from "away" and is disregarded. An unworldly girl genius, raised by a pair of back-to-the-earth doctor parents and their college friends also knows something. Are they really the only ones who know what is happening, or are they the on ...more
Julia Rodas
There's no way around it--this is a horrifying book. It came to me as a loan from Marianne Pita, the Chair of the English department at Bronx Community College, who was duly impressed by the talent of author Cara Hoffman, who is a part-time member of our department. But, while I share Marianne's admiration, I also found the book appalling.

A word here about the writing: Hoffman is certainly gifted and the book certainly merits the praise which it has earned. It is everything the back jacket says-
Apr 16, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't know how this book got through the editing process. Didn't anyone bother to tell Cara Hoffman that multiple narrators in a shifting timeline is a bad idea? Didn't her editor tell her that her didactic prose and endless direct characterizations are cheap shot short cuts for doing the real work of writing? How about writing a chapter that is about real action rather than posturing? Or if you are going to put two 'types' of people against each other, in this case simple locals versus educat ...more
May 18, 2011 rated it did not like it
Or so much drek! I've read some great reviews of this "novel" and was excited to read it. The excitement ended when the book started. Did I read the same book as these rave reviewers? I hardly think so.

I read a quote (not sure what its from but I found it on Amazon) from Hoffman..."as a journalist, I've always thought 'why' was the most important question". On this, at least, the "author" (DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!) and I agree. Why indeed? Why did I waste money on this book? Why did I waste ti
Elizabeth Scott
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow! This was know, it's been days since I've read this and I still catch myself thinking about it.

The basic plot is that a young woman disappears in a small town and when her body is found, everyone seems to think a stranger/drifter killed her, except for two people, a local (and newcomer) reporter, and Alice, who was one of the most fascinating fictional teenagers I've ever read about. (It's Alice who really caught me--days later, I still don't know if what she did was because she wan
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
switterbug (Betsey)
Mar 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Imagine you are the "outsider" and reporter, Stacy Flynn. You came to this farm town in upstate New York via Cleveland to find the "big-picture" story on rural waste dumping here in off-the-grid Haeden. You're twenty-four, alert as a cat, keen to pounce like a tiger, with Malcolm X glasses, a postmodern flair, and a Mencken regard. You've won an award in the big city, and now that the Rust Belt stories are waning, you seek the newly pelted. But after several years of living among wind-battered f ...more
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I may not like postmodern art but I love postmodern literature. Give me multiple perspectives, jumping around in time, and fragments to put together and I am a happy person. This novel had all of these and then it also had the cherry on top... it really surprised me.

This book was a recommendation from John Warner, aka the Biblioracle, based on the following five books I had previously read and enjoyed: number9dream by David Mitchell, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, The
Neely Hudson
Jun 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm really torn between four and five stars. This is the best, most intelligent and thoughtful, suspense novel that I've read in a long time... maybe ever. I love the big questions that Cara challenges us with: are "progressive" ideas and opinions really progressive? Can we make a big enough impact carrying on in our own quiet ways, or do we need to DO something BIG to make changes... This book also delighted me because it wasn't absolutely predictable. Some of the suspicions I had of the charac ...more
Jun 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm really struggling to find the words for how I feel about this book. I'm also struggling to write a review without first going back and reading the book a second time, but I'm going to try to give you an honest review from my first read because I may feel different after I've put the story all together.

A key to this book is that it is contemporary fiction. It's written in a style that I can only relate back to the movie Momento, except the story is being told from the point of view of dozens
Ari Reavis
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ari by: Bethany-Kris
Shelves: own-it
This book messed with my freaking mind. The ending was so unexpected. I imagined a bunch of different scenarios and none of them were even close to what happened. The way the book is written both kept me guessing. You're wondering what all the evidence points to. What all of these thoughts and life experiences lead to. You know something horrible happened, but have no idea what. Then something bad happens and you think that's the horrible, but oh no, the horrible is yet to come.
When you finally
Mal Warwick
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: trade-fiction
Unbearable suspense and extraordinary characters in a novel that grapples with today’s greatest ethical challenges

I can’t get Alice Piper out of my head. Here she is, dashing off a 7th grade paper in English prose worthy of a graduate student. There she is again, fearlessly leaping from bar to bar on the high wire in her parents’ barn. Still again, she is deeply engrossed in a probing philosophical discussion with her parents at age 6. Alice is a bundle of special gifts, a phenomenon.

On its most
Feb 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club-pick, 2011
I have read more books than I would like centered around the disappearance of a woman. Several recent titles that leap to mind are Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; The Fates Will Find Their Way; and The False Friend. The missing women in these books are almost certainly dead, but we don’t always find out for certain.

SO MUCH PRETTY is also about a missing woman although in this case we do find out what has happened and it is not good. For me, what sets this book apart from the others is the underl
Jun 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
There was so much potential in this book. Chapter starters like, "I have her baby teeth saved in a box in my dresser." But the book never went anywhere. With the story told by the POV of a dozen characters, told through narrative, newspaper articles, diary entries, audio transcriptions and interviews... the story is so jarring and lacks flow. It takes effort to read this, akin to a textbook, but you're not learning anything. It isn't even escapism that rewards you for your hard work, because the ...more
Jul 24, 2015 rated it liked it
I've got some distance now because I finished this on Tuesday, but goddamn, this book was hard to read. I read a lot of crime novels & I don’t think I’m a shrinking violet regarding fictionalized violence, so I didn’t expect to cry & be so sick to my stomach that I had to put the book down when I found out what was done to Wendy White, missing waitress, but there I was. Hoffman hit me hard in the face by making Wendy a human being & then creating characters who dehumanized her so com ...more
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
this book is hard to review I think without giving anything away!! it was hard to get into and then BAM I cant put it down, I didn't care for the date and character jumping or the sort of open-ended ending. I personally like my endings in a neat little box with a pretty bow :) besides all that, I did enjoy it, although it scared the shit out of me, as a woman it makes you think about everyone around you & the fucking horrible things people are capable of
Mar 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011
This book was too f***ing weird. I didn't understand half of the political garbage & the ending didn't even seem plausible. I almost quit reading after the first 50 pages and I SO should have. I only finished it because I wanted to know what happened to Wendy & you never even really find out. Yikes.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was about a third of the way through this debut novel by Cara Hoffman before I knew if I even liked it. The story seemed disjointed, jumping around through time over a ten year period and switching perspectives between several characters, many of whom didn’t appear to even be connected. Gradually, as the stories overlapped, I realized what Hoffman was doing. By presenting these moments out of chronological order, without focusing on one set of characters or one clear narrator, she shows the re ...more
Jun 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I found this book absorbing and interesting, but I consider it only half complete.

Unfortunately, while the author seemed to have a good sense for what makes "outsiders" move to the country and get off the grid, she remains clueless about rural communities themselves.

The book turned somewhat polemical about violence against women. The author offered no insight about the perpetrators and their families. They were just one-dimensional bad guys. The book contained a lot of condescension toward rur
Rebecca Martin
Mar 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
The feeling of doom that hung over this book from the very beginning made the reading a heart-in-throat kind of experience. The events are supposed to take place in upstate NY, though I read it in Iowa and could very readily translate the portrayal of "family" (now corporate) farms and decaying small towns into that environment. This book has a lot to say about country and city, ideals and realities, and--most affectingly--about the disposable nature of women in a society that treats them as und ...more
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I first saw this book reviewed on and immediately added it to my "To-read" list. The premise of the book is fascinating and "So Much Pretty" definitely lived up to my expectations.

The book was a little difficult to get into. I wasn't quite sure where it was leading, but when a story involves the disappearance of a pretty girl in a small town - it is bound to be an important story. That is what I would call "So Much Pretty," an important story.

Some of the characters are ecccentric, just
So Much Pretty is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've read in the past five years. I have not stopped thinking about it since I read it. Every other book pales in its shadow.

But really, Katie Coyle at The Female Gaze says it best: "The dead girl in So Much Pretty is nearly as much of a cipher as any other, but the novel speaks for her, champions her. It says, like all girls, this one was flawed, but loved. She did not deserve to live with this anger, this fear. Like all girls, she did n
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Compelling. Frightening. I've seen reviews stating the story is completely unrealistic, unbelievable. I would really hope that this is an unrealistic story. However, I found it inconceivable that 3 women could be held captive in a house in urban America for a decade until this week. One of the most compelling elements of this book (for me) is that you get a sense of what is coming and can't believe it will be so. The thrill is in the telling and seeing how events unfold, how it can be that an en ...more
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 4
Plot: 5
Characters: 4
Emotional impact: 5
Overall rating: 4.5

This was a very engrossing story presented in an interesting way, through non-linear narratives, letters, essays and interviews, leaving the reader to piece together both the facts and the truth, which are not always the same thing. Really good!
Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)
This review first appeared on my blog:

This novel was inspired by a real case that the author encountered as a police beat reporter.

Told in alternating POV's, we meet Claire Piper, her husband Gene, and their daughter Alice, a happy girl who was a leader in her school and in life. They live in the small community of Haeden, where the Pipers lead a rather unconventional "back to earth" life, given that they are both Harvard-educated, with medical degrees th
Dawn Vanniman
May 14, 2012 rated it liked it
I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

SO MUCH PRETTY is a mystery and a thriller. But it's not the kind where the events could never happen. It's the kind where you hope they never happen to YOUR family, but we read about them all too frequently. This novel is not YA, but still something I can see YA readers picking up to read as they get older. I would recommend this one only for the oldest of the group. There's swearing, sex, violence and general human atrociti
Mar 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Debut novelist Cara Hoffman takes lots of liberties with our hearts--our fears, our uncertainties, and our repressed desires--in her 2011 novel So Much Pretty. Something happens, finally, in this rundown rural upstate N.Y. town where a journalist slowly accumulates evidence of toxic poisoning by the "family-run" corporate-owned dairy farm that dominates the physical and personal landscape of the town. town residents, a little strange but vaguely familiar, are given voice through depositions and ...more
Re-read for me. Let's see if it hits me as strongly the second time as the first.

Updated: The first time I read this, it was a solid four. I think that stemmed from the fact I was entirely freaked out by the book itself. It's a dark topic, but without a doubt, So Much Pretty is entirely amazing. What would you do? What if this was your child? Those are the kinds of questions it makes a reader ask. From multiple spectrum it makes you ask this. From the killer's side, from the side of the girl wh
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HOFFMAN is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Running, So Much Pretty and Be Safe I Love You. She has written for the New York Times, Marie Claire, Salon, and National Public Radio, and is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades including a Folio Prize nomination, and a Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Award.

She has been a visiting writer at Columbia, St. John’s and Universi
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“Sometimes she felt she had fallen asleep inside herself while she was wide awake working.” 9 likes
'A man can only take so much pretty walking back and forth in front of him.' He said pretty like he meant something else.” 7 likes
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