Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gorgeous - Paul Rudnick

I really do not know where to start with this book. My feelings about it are so conflicted.

The side of me that is reading the 100 Best Novels list and loves deep character exploration knows this book is crap. It's shallow and pure almost pure fluff.

The side of me that picked up a childhood favorite about princesses and dragons yesterday and that devours celebrity news and that deep down still dreams like a six year old girl completely loved it. 

One of the best ways for me to categorize this book for you is to point out that the quote on the cover praising the book is from Meg Cabot. She wrote The Princess Diaries series. You know, the one that spawned the movie sensation starring Anne Hathaway back when we were all impressionable pre-teens. Or, was it just a sensation at my house? My sister and her best friend saw that movie in theatres 11 times. 11. That is not a joke. Anyway, all that to say, when I saw Meg Cabot praising Gorgeous, it made sense to me. She and Paul Rudnick are authors have contributed to the same genre: ugly girls who have something miraculous happen to them, making them beautiful, but ultimately realize inner beauty is best.

We've all seen one hundred movies with this basic plotline. Ugly girl gets makeover, achieves popularity and accomplishments she never could have as ugly duckling, meets man, goes through some trial, realizes she was good enough before the makeover, man loves her for who she is, regardless of appearance. It's pretty standard.

Rudnick, to his credit, gave the tired plot a fun twist when he brought in fashion designers and a cast of eccentric, if one-sided, characters. 

I've given you the standard plot points, but, now, with a bit more detail: Becky lives in a midwestern trailer park with her grossly overweight mother. When her mother dies, Becky discovers a mysterious phone number for Tom Kelly, the most famous fashion designer in the world, among her mom's belongings. Cue crazy journey that results in Kelly becoming Becky's fairy godmother of sorts. He makes her a deal that he will create three dresses for her; dresses which will turn her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Average-looking Becky agrees, despite her own skepticism, and suddenly she is world famous. Her Hollywood crush shows up asking her to star in a film with him, she lands the cover of Vogue, and she works in charities alongside Prince Gregory of England (a very thin cover for Prince William). 

The story is fun and light and completely shallow (a word I'm sure Rudnick would protest since his heroine ultimately realizes that inner beauty is best). There is no denying the fluff, though. Still, it's like cotton candy fluff. Enjoyable to eat for an afternoon, but not what you'd want to formulate a diet out of. It was a guilty pleasure for me, definitely, but one I don't feel terribly guilty about since I'm also in the middle of Parade's End. I mean, you don't feel badly about eating cotton candy if you're interspersing it with big helpings of broccoli. Is this analogy ridiculous?

Rudnick's writing is only ok. The majority of his characters are caricatures who offer little depth to the story. Only Becky herself demonstrates real growth or emotional depth. We see tiny touches in Prince Gregory and movie start Jate Mallow, but their changes are so predictable and so due to Becky's own influence, I barely count them. The story is extremely predictable. I didn't like the fantasy aspect of it. I know it's all supposed to be so magical, but I was hoping for a more concrete explanation for Kelly's magical influence. 

The portrayal of the British royal family had me laughing for sure. Rudnick's attempts to portray the real life royals are thinly veiled. His queen is followed by a flock of Corgis (from whom she takes advice). Prince Gregory's mother was a charitable icon who died before her time in a tragic plane crash. There's even a troublesome younger prince who gets into plenty of his own hijinks. I definitely felt Rudnick should have tried a little harder at creating his own royal cast. If you're going to write a fiction book, write a fiction book. Besides, it seemed silly to have the Becky and Prince Gregory romance play such an important role when the real prince already has a fairy tale bride. (Ok, I admit. My fanatical love for Kate Middleton may have influenced my opinion here.)

The book is fun. There's no denying that. I wish I had picked it up for a beach trip this summer instead of during the autumn. It would have been perfect poolside, when all you want is a story that matches the impossible sunshine streaming down around you. Still, this is definitely one I'll recommend to the right people. Most of us enjoy a good fairy tale every now and then, after all. 

Pages: 336
Date Completed: October 31, 2014

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