Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pretty Ugly

by Kirker Butler
Thomas Dunne Books   2015
294 pages     Satire

"Pretty Ugly is a satirical look at a dysfunctional southern family complete with an overbearing stage mom, a 9 year old pageant queen, a cheating husband, his teenage girlfriend, a crazy grandmother, and Jesus."

Sometimes satire is the only solution! That was the case for me during the last week of the semester when students were calling every other minute with papers to edit! Thank goodness for satire.

Kirker Butler is a screen writer and producer for comedy shows like The Family Guy, Cleveland, and Galavant. Pretty Ugly is his send-up of TV reality shows and southern children's beauty pageants in particular.  He grew up in Western Kentucky where Pretty Ugly takes place, and his mother was the director of the Ohio County Fair Beauty Pageant. So he knows what he is talking about and what he is talking about is painfully funny. 

Miranda Kelly was a beauty pageant contestant as a teenager, and she has carried on that tradition with her young daughter, Bailey, relentlessly pushing her unwilling daughter into pageant after pageant, weekend after weekend, driving her family into debt and her 9 year old daughter into despair. Miranda leaves her two young sons with a grandma who talks to Jesus all day long, and leaves her husband working 80 hour weeks as a nurse to pay for the horrendous expense of dresses and shoes and makeup and hairdressers. Ray has his own story which runs counter to the beauty pageant story and is as full of craziness as the pageant story.

My favorite little tidbits in the book are the names of all the pageants that Bailey has entered and all the prizes she has won. If it weren't for the pageant winnings, the family would have nothing. The assumption of the novel is that the real life of beauty pageants is not that different from the world of Miranda, the ultimate stage mother.

Everything and everyone is totally dysfunctional  but it is all played for laughs. One can imagine the entire story line as a comedy movie, which I am sure was the intent. It is great fun and poignant at the same time. One reviewer says, "If this book wasn't so brilliantly written it would be a very sad story. But Butler's dialogue and first-person perspective almost drip with satire. I feel like I'm watching a TLC show just because it's on and I want to see the train wreck unfold."

Read it on your Kindle on your next plane ride. Make everyone on the plane wonder why you're laughing so hard. Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to watch a little TLC.

Kirker Butler's website.
The review in the Louisville newspaper—which is really good, by the way.

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