Picks and Pans Review: Pretty Girls
by Garret Weyr
Just when it seemed there couldn't possibly be another postfeminist novel, a genre that arguably peaked with The Women's Room, along comes the ironically titled Pretty Girls, a particularly irritating example of the form. Salient characteristics of said genre: insensitive, cloddish men, victimized yammering women and at least one mention of Helen Reddy. The pretty girls in question are University of North Carolina sophomores. There's bulimic, sharp-tongued Alexandria, who since she was raped insists on being called Alex. Caroline is haunted by thoughts of her freshman boyfriend and memories of her brother, killed in Vietnam. The group, known as the Amazons, is rounded out by the worldly Penelope. Penelope's chief goal in life is to get her father, a vacuum-cleaner-bag heir, now American Ambassador to France, to pay attention to her. Her preferred methods: being rude, being loud, suggesting she might be illegitimate and getting pregnant. The novel covers a semester at Chapel Hill, as events strain the ties that bind the Amazons. What is so irksome about the book, aside from its apparently effortful attempts to be writerly, is that the male characters are either predatory or inferior and unduly threatened by the Amazons. Here, for example, is Alex on a date to see Yentl with her boyfriend, Edward. " 'Wasn't that the best?' Alex asks, getting into the car as Edward holds the door open for her.... 'It was okay.' 'Okay? Poor Barbra, she never keeps the man. Not Sharif in Funny Girl, not Redford in The Way We Were, and not Patinkin in Yentl. Imagine settling for Amy Irving when you could have Bar-bra.' 'I don't need to imagine. After that loud mouth, I'd run to Amy so fast it would make your head spin.' " Get it? Another man undone by a forceful woman. It's hard to see why a reader would find this trio of young ladies so daunting. Maybe it's because they're tall. Maybe it's because they are snide. Maybe it's because they're so cruelly scornful of the sorority princesses stereotypically portrayed as air-heads. It's almost as hard to guess why the girls find each other so appealing. Mostly, they just seem thick. "Was being raped that horrid?" Penelope asks Alex. "Yes. It's like failing a test you studied all night for—Being raped is from hunger." Which inevitably suggests where this novel is from. (Crown, $15.95)
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