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Monday 12 October 2015

‘Pretty Baby’ by Mary Kubica

Published by Harlequin Mira,
20 August 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-848-45396-8 (PB)

Mary Kubica’s debut novel The Good Girl was an unexpected word-of-mouth success written in secret. It garnered plaudits and movie offers, and made the author’s name one to watch. Her second, Pretty Baby, was written in full view of her family and friends, at the same time as she was promoting the first.

A second novel is notoriously more difficult than the first, and a successful first novel can be an especially hard act to follow. Would Kubica live up to her early promise?

The short answer is yes, and how! Pretty Baby lacks the twisty complexity of The Good Girl, but is no less gripping. The gradually unfolding horror story it told drew me in and clutched at me as the three narrating characters lurched towards their inevitable fate.

Those three characters are middle-class wife and husband Heidi and Chris, and Willow, the homeless cuckoo Heidi takes into their nest. All three are damaged souls, Heidi and Willow by matters outside their control, Chris by the life he has chosen to lead. Each story strand is told in the first person; Heidi and Chris describe events as they take place, while Willow’s is her own story, an account of what brought her to the point at which she is roaming the streets of Chicago clutching an old suitcase and a small baby.

Other well-drawn characters are woven into the background: Zoe, Heidi and Chris’s pre-teen daughter, who hates the world with that brand of venom peculiar to adolescent girls, but also has her own vulnerabilities; neighbour Graham, bemused yet good-hearted; stylish, ambitious Cassidy; Joseph and Miriam, about who the least said the better.

It’s not comfortable reading, and all the more stifling because it takes place largely indoors, in Heidi and Chris’s upmarket apartment and various upscale hotel rooms. At times Willow’s narrative is harrowing: unfortunately a story which is all too often reflected in real life, and one which Kubica handles with compassion, though without pulling punches. Compassionate Heidi’s spiralling turmoil of feelings also comes across sympathetically, along with the glimpses into her past which explain her both her tender nature and her fragility. Chris has redeeming features, though I couldn’t help feeling that his view of the situation contributed to the shocking, though inevitable, fate which befalls his wife.

There’s an unusual final twist, a kind of about-face which upends expectations but also feels right.
More power to Mary Kubica, for creating a scenario which felt so real that I almost felt I was living it alongside the characters.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.  She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening, and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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