Reviews of the new and old

By Nick Elliot
Book Critic

“So Much Pretty”

It’s not often that a book leaves me with such mixed feelings as Cara Hoffman’s debut, “So Much Pretty.”

The novel takes place in Haeden, a local town in upstate N.Y., and revolves around the disappearance of Wendy White, a young local waitress.

Stacy Flynn, a reporter from Cleveland moves to town to investigate the environmental impact of the town’s dairy farm, instead becoming consumed with cracking Wendy’s case. Wendy’s story is told alongside that of Alice Piper, an intelligent and mature high school student who has always been cast as a bit of an “outsider.” Alice’s parents move from New York City to Haeden to escape the chaos of the city and raise their family in a more nurturing environment, but are never able to fully acclimate to the town’s tight-knit culture.

After Wendy’s body is found in a ditch on the side of the road five months after her disappearance, tension in the town escalates. The lives of the three women — Wendy, Flynn and Alice — all drive the novel’s exploration of violence against their gender. Frustrated with Haeden’s small-town mentality, Alice decides to take matters into her own hands.

You’ll have to find out for yourself how the novel ends, but I certainly closed the book feeling conflicted.

“So Much Pretty” moves slowly at first and takes time to settle into, but once Hoffman establishes her method of adopting multiple character perspectives and points of view, the story becomes a page-turner.

A former investigative reporter, Hoffman’s style is exact and specific, but also stylish and engaging. Whether you love the book or not — and I do think the ending is polarizing — Hoffman ensures her story will linger in the heads of her readers for some time.

By Chris Delaney
Book Critic

“While Mortals Sleep”

“While Mortals Sleep” is a collection of previously unpublished short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. These works were likely written when Vonnegut was just starting out and honing his craft. All together there are 16 stories with topics ranging from Christmas lights to model trains.

While late writer Kurt Vonnegut’s formerly unreleased works are published, new author Cara Hoffman releases her first novel. (vonnegut.com)

For those familiar with Vonnegut’s work, these stories are more optimistic and cheery than his later work. However, they do not lack the moral instructions that are such an integral part of his prose. For instance, the story “Ruth” exemplifies the timeless Vonnegut theme of caring for others and foreshadows Vonnegut’s novel “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.”

You can see the seeds of Vonnegut’s later work in the lessons he tries to teach and the types of characters he uses in these early stories. To be honest, I was pessimistic about reading this book and I put it off for a year, but I really wish I hadn’t.

This is not just a collection of stale stories published to make money — this is something you will really enjoy. It is not equal to the caliber of “Cat’s Cradle” or “Breakfast of Champions,” but it is quality — think “Welcome to the Monkeyhouse” without the science fiction.

The book also includes some of Vonnegut’s artwork. The first page includes a black background with white stars dancing in the sky and a caption that says, “Some Of These Are Galaxies.”

Looking at this artwork makes me wonder if any of those galaxies light-years away have their own Kurt Vonnegut. I doubt it.