Review of GORGEOUS by PAUL RUDNICK
(review based on an advance reading copy)
GORGEOUS has an intriguing, mysterious premise: after the death of her morbidly obese mother, Becky receives a strange phone call and finds herself whisked away by a peculiar and unnaturally stunning stranger who claims he can make her the most beautiful woman in the world by designing three dresses. This might not need saying, but you need to be able to suspend your skepticism to enjoy this story! Rudnick crafts believable characters but far from believable actions and twists. Becky often goes along with each crazy development without much fuss clearly to keep the book moving at a rapid pace. GORGEROUS also defies easy categorization, because the novel is far more character- than premise-focused. We never learn if it’s magic or science or God or the aliens or fill-in-the-blank that explains the how behind the strange happenings. Becky’s reaction to these mystical events ranks far above any explanation.
I loved the voice from the first page, though it won’t be for everyone. There’s a lot of swearing (In fact, I want to show this book to everyone who asks if swearing is allowed in young adult literature.) and sometimes the humor’s crude and crass. Disclaimer aside, if forced to label this book I’d go with satiric absurdity, (And if that’s not an official genre, it should be.) which shines through in the tone right from the very start. GORGEOUS made me laugh more times than I can count and, above any other strengths, that’s what made it stand out for me.
I’m the stating the obvious here, but this book - titled GORGEOUS and in which the protagonist strikes a deal to become the most beautiful woman in the world - fixates on beauty. The novel does an incredible job of tackling such a complex topic. One line in particular caught my attention: “Mirrors are more dangerous than guns or cars or crystal meth, because they’re cheap, readily available and everyone’s addicted.”
I can see the distanced viewpoint off-putting some readers. Close focused, “real time” scenes are surprisingly few and far between and instead Rudnick often summarizes hours, days, or months in a chapter or even paragraph. This approach only bothered me when I wanted to experience what’s really a subtle, slow change of mindset for Becky rather than be informed in a few paragraphs how she’s seeing everything differently.
While I still rate this book high overall, my opinion went downhill a little around the ending. When the story starts collecting itself for some kind of meaningful conclusion, the attempt falls flat. The ending trips into some of the same happily-ever-after traps the book challenges and the why and how behind the supernatural only become more mysterious and confusing, not less. I also expected a far more impacting revelation about Becky’s mother. In short, the story feels natural at the absurd but sometimes forced at the real.
My criticisms about the end aside, GORGEOUS had my full attention and rewarded me with plenty of laughter, some innovative insight, and a worthwhile discussion that will continue in the reader’s mind and in real world conversations long after they’ve finished this book.