book: Pretty Baby (2015) by Mary Kubica

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Chicago charity worker and her self-obsessed workaholic husband Chris have a 12-year-old, Zoe. They’d have had more children except Heidi was, for medical reasons, forced into an emergency hysterectomy, so that was that. There are tensions — many of them over Chris’s hot workmate, Cassidy, whom Heidi suspects of Having Designs — but they at least approximate a happy family.

Then one day, in the rain, Heidi spots a young homeless woman with her tiny baby, and becomes obsessed by the pair and the obvious desperation of their situation. Before too long she’s invited the girl, Willow, and the baby, Ruby, to live in the family home, to the horror of Zoe and Chris. Even though she knows that harboring an underage runaway is an offense — and, whatever her claims otherwise, Willow is clearly both underage and a runaway — Heidi can’t stop herself from doing what she believes to be the right thing . . .

Only, as we slowly — unfortunately, very slowly — learn, it’s not just Willow who isn’t really who she makes herself out to be.

Told from the three viewpoints of Heidi, Willow and Chris, this psychological thriller has all the elements of a gripping thriller, plus one element that makes it far harder work than it should be: it’s almost shamefully verbose, as if Kubica couldn’t help herself from using three words where one would have done. Some of the descriptive passages are so overwritten that the idea crossed my mind — only as a joke, I assure you — that Kubica might be getting paid by the line. At the mundane, word-by-word level, the recurring example that perhaps most irritated me was that people don’t just “wake” or “wake up,” they “awaken from sleep.” So that‘s what they were doing beforehand!

As I say, there are all the makings of a good thriller here, and one that has, too, a subtext of some importance, but the excessive verbiage drags it down. Either Kubica or her editor should have pulled out the legendary red pencil and gone through it striking out the flab — not necessarily ruthlessly, but with some self-discipline.

That said, Kubica’s a refreshingly intelligent writer, and one whose work I may well be tempted by again.

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2 thoughts on “book: Pretty Baby (2015) by Mary Kubica

  1. Hmmmm, sounds most intriguing, and the recommendation coming from you is even more persuasive. Wonderful book capsule here!

    • I’m not sure I’d describe this as a recommendation — certainly not a wholehearted one. Mind you, if you look around on Goodreads you find that some people have obviously enjoyed it a very great deal.

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