When she disappeared from her rural hometown, Wendy White was a sweet, family-oriented girl, a late bloomer who'd recently moved out on her own, with her first real boyfriend and a job waiting tables at the local tavern. It happens all the time-a woman goes missing, a family mourns, and the case remains unsolved. Stacy Flynn is a reporter looking for her big break. She moved east from Cleveland, a city known for its violent crime, but that's the last thing she expected to cover in Haeden. This small, upstate New York town counts a dairy farm as its main employer and is home to families who've set down roots and never left-people who don't take kindly to outsiders. Flynn is researching the environmental impact of the dairy, and the way money flows outward like the chemical runoff, eventually poisoning those who live at the edges of its reach.
Five months after she disappeared, Wendy's body is found in a ditch just off one of Haeden's main roads. Suddenly, Flynn has a big story, but no one wants to talk to her. No one seems to think that Wendy's killer could still be among them. A drifter, they say. Someone "not from here."
Fifteen-year-old Alice Piper is an imaginative student with a genius IQ and strong ideals. The precocious, confident girl has stood out in Haeden since the day her eccentric hippie parents moved there from New York City, seeking a better life for their only child. When Alice reads Flynn's passionate article in the Haeden Free Press about violence against women-about the staggering number of women who are killed each day by people they know-she begins to connect the dots of Wendy's disappearance and death, leading her to make a choice: join the rest in turning a blind eye, or risk getting involved. As Flynn and Alice separately observe the locals' failure to acknowledge a murderer in their midst, Alice's fate is forever entwined with Wendy's when a second crime rocks the town to its core.
Stylishly written, closely observed, and bracingly unexpected, So Much Pretty leads the reader into the treacherous psychology of denial, where the details of an event are already known, deeply and intuitively felt, but not yet admitted to, reconciled or revealed.
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1 . Too much stop-go-reverse-forward-then sideways.
Posted July 14, 2011 by Debbie Bollinger , Scott CitySimply put, Cara Huffman, please spend some time reading Anne Rule's many true crime stories, take notes and try again.
Simon & Schuster
March 01, 2011
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Excerpt from So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman
ALL THREE OF us walked in our sleep.
Later, when I would think about what happened, I would tell myself she was sleepwalking. Acting out a nightmare. Sleepwalking ran in our family. Dreaming while walking. Dreaming while talking. I know this is not an answer. The real answer is too simple.
Did she have health problems? Was she low-birth weight? Did she have headaches? Self-destructive behavior? Sudden changes in grades or friends? No.
Alice was a remarkably consistent soul. Healthy and athletic like her father. At home wherever she was. Happy at school and happy with all the things outside of school. Gymnastics and trapeze. And later, swimming, building, archery, shooting.
Her focus was so joyful, so intense. Like her happiness, when she was little, about swimming in the river, about building the cardboard forest or the paper Taj Mahal. Once she made a mobile of hundreds of origami frogs, locusts, paper dolls, and butterflies.
She was never bored. Had the same friends at sixteen as she'd had at four. Her teachers talked about how she was a "leader." It was a word they used often, and this is certainly part of the problem. "A Leader." But they also talked about how she was sensitive to other children, always so caring.
I am not trying to justify a thing. I am not trying to make excuses for my daughter. I am describing it as it was.
Before April 14, the words "I am Alice Piper's mother" meant very little to anyone but me. Now those words are a riddle, a koan. A thing I have to understand even though nothing will change, even though the phrase "nothing will change" is something we fought against our entire lives.
The years in which we raised her were marked by diminishing returns for our diminishing expectations. But it hadn't always been that way.
Things were different in the city. We moved because of Constant's uncle. Because of Gene's dreams about land and air and autonomy. But also because of me. Because of traffic and noise and sewer smells and the seventy hours a week I worked at the city's Comprehensive Free Clinic for the Uninsured on First Avenue.
Prior to moving upstate, Gene and I lived on Saint Mark's and First Avenue. Then later in a two-bedroom apartment on First and Seventh, with Constant and Michelle Mann, who were also done with their residencies and, like Gene and I, planned on working for Doctors Without Borders. We moved to First and Seventh because of the rooftop, so Gene could have space to plant. In those days everyone but Gene was exhausted--sometimes punch-drunk on three hours of sleep a night, nodding off on the subway coming home from Lenox Hill or staggering bleary-eyed in clogs and scrubs from Beth Israel or CFC. We all felt like the walking dead, knew we were in bad shape, envying Gene, especially later, when he was home all day with the baby. In the end, moving to Haeden was all we wanted.
When we drove out to the house and barn through that wet and green countryside, we were excited. We would finally have a place of our own. The apparent beauty and possibility of it all was overwhelming, something we had tried and failed to build for ourselves the last six years in New York.
Even the double-wides and sloping farmhouses with their black POW and American flags seemed oddly majestic with so much land around them, the tiniest trailers close to creeks or ponds.
As we drove in, I was thinking about Michelle when we worked in the clinic together, saying the responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious. How had we missed the obvious benefit of all this land? A whole house and acreage for the cost of one room on the Lower East Side. I was thinking how, the second we got out of the car and brought our boxes inside and wrote Uncle Ross his rent check, this whole thing would start. In those days I could not wait for it to start.
Alice was two then, and we walked inside and put our boxes down and sat on the kitchen floor, nervous and tired from the drive, eating some blueberries we had bought on the way. She had just woken up and her face was placid and her hair was tangled and she leaned against me eating blueberries, her body warm and gentle from sleep. Then evening came in from the fields and lit the place with sound and stars. Peepers called up from the river, and crickets played below the windows in the grass. It was the first time Alice had heard crickets, and we went out on the porch together, Gene and I, watched her listen, quiet and alert and hunkered down, her whole body taking in the sound. Her blue-stained lips parted and her eyes shining.
It was Alice's happiness, her joy in those moments, that allowed me to stay even years after, when paying attention to the obvious became a horror.
And for a long time we did not regret our singular vision. Our attempt to strip the irony from the slogans we'd come to live by. Phrases that buoyed us and embarrassed us at the same time. "Demand the Impossible," "Beneath the Paving Stones, the Beach," anarchist sentiments we first took up in the city as a joke, then ultimately to comfort one another, to remind ourselves that we were different from our cohorts. Those words seemed--with all the incessant construction, and the destruction of the natural world, and Gene becoming fixated on "living the solution" and bringing down corporate agribusiness--more poignant at that time than when real revolutionaries scrawled them on the Paris streets in 1968. We might not have been burning cars and shutting down a city, but we were living in the sterile and violent future they had imagined, and we were certainly committed to destroying one culture by cultivating another.