Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Release Date: July 28th, 2015
Publisher: MIRA Books
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Are you ready? This book is no walk in the park. It's a walk in the park with lots of death and really unhealthy emotions about small children. It's definitely over-the-top to admit, but it felt like less of a mystery and more of a gradual, precise series of explosions in the form of words.
I'm serious. This book takes some serious mental preparing, mostly because it leans more on what I'd consider psychological drama than thriller. While there are a lot of thriller aspects, most of the really juicy bits come from the obsessive desire, the PTSD, the grief, the distrust of romantic partners, the blurring of reality and fantasy, etc.
Set in Chicago, we center around three characters.
Heidi, a non-profit worker with the obsessive need to help others. She works those who are circumstantially less fortunate (refugees, for example). On the outside, it seems she has everything together, what with her beauty, friends, career, etc. Don't let her fool you, though. This woman has more tragedies than a Sophocles play: she's dealt with cervical cancer, the death of her father, etc. One day, she meets Willow, the second major character, a homeless teen who lost her parents to a car accident and then her sister to the foster system, and then her sense of trust to a bad foster home. Neither character knows the broken past of the other. They simply see the exteriors of the other. Heidi just sees someone who needs help. Someone who has a baby, Ruby. Something clicks within Heidi that prompts her to invite Willow and her child into Heidi's home. And it all goes to hell from there.
Chris is our outside eye, an investment banker always on business trips (and usually with an attractive and flirtatious colleague). He misses the beginning of his and Heidi's relationship, and is often strained to understand why Heidi seems to place her non-profit work, helping everyone else, above the needs of the family's stability. He provides a much needed palette cleanser and seemingly more objective, or at least more normal thoughts. The way these characters interact (and with other characters, like the very cliched angsty tween Zoe) is what really makes this book. While Chris worries about the family's safety, Heidi loses herself in obsessing over Ruby, and Willow . . . she's just on a level I can't describe.
The language is great. Though quite straightforward by its own right, it shines when discussing its variance between the three narrators: Kubica's ability to work in the different styles of thought (Chris's more solid to Willow's incredibly paranoid) while maintaining the narration from all three characters is powerful. It serves to bring out the heart of these characters and add another layer of realism. However . . . it's also a way to check for unreliability. I bring this up because it was just a little gem of an idea I found in the novel. Willow's narration seems the most formulated, with more frequent complete thoughts and sentences. Much of what she tells Heidi and Chris is a narrative she's constructed. For me, Willow has no reason to tell the truth anyway, and this brings her reliability into question.
The plot is dynamic, exciting, and downright fascinating. I loved the fact that the book played me. It played me like a cheap violin. Every other chapter, I thought I had figured it out. I thought I knew this book and I squealed in my own foolish delight . . . only to have the next chapter dash my thoughts. My only real issue with the plot was that, while I found the three character POV format awesome, I did get a sense of the novel dragging around the 200 mark trying to separately establish the background fro all of the characters. However, for me, the novel picks itself back up again quickly enough, and though it dragged, it never got boring, and because Kubica was able to always seamlessly switch characters, often at a cliffhanger, I'll let it slide.
I've seen a couple of people reference similarities to Gone Girl with this book; I'll have to agree with them that it is similar in narrative construction to Gone Girl. The way the plot unfolds and the secrets and characters become more clear is similar and definitely the emotions the novels both left me with are similar. However the subject matter for Pretty Baby is unique to itself (and the same goes for Gone Girl). While Gone Girl deals with the dangers of projecting one's needs, flaws, and desires onto a romantic partner in a selfish way (and from this, a lot of the novel centers on discussing sexism), Pretty Baby centers on a couple of separate questions: How much of a person is a lie? How far will a person go for another without ever knowing them deep down? How much can a person trust another? (There is a fair share of projecting in Pretty Baby, but it's . . . for a baby, so that's a different problem.)
*Special thanks to MIRA/Harlequinn exhibitors at BEA for the ARC!
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