A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.
There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.
2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.
2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.
As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty.
The publisher sent me the NetGalley widget for this novel, and I was on the fence about downloading it, but took the plunge. I’m still not quite sure how I feel after reading it.
I like the theme of female empowerment and stopping men who try to silence women or dismiss them as hysterical when they try to express their feelings. But this is a very bizarre, sometimes confusing, and occasionally disturbing story. At times I honestly didn’t know what was happening – but I plowed through this book in a couple days.
Fifteen years apart, young teen girls are brutally killed in similar ways. It happened when Caroline was in her twenties and has started again. She’s understandably worried about her thirteen-year-old daughter, Lila. When Lila begins acting strangely, memories Caroline hoped to keep buried are resurrected, and her backstory and their similar experiences are revealed in alternating POV and timeline chapters. From her dying father, Caroline learns that as a very young girl she went missing for several days, but has no memory of what happened to her during that time. By the end of the novel, I still didn’t have a firm grasp of what she experienced during that disappearance either.
This is a bloody, gory tale, and those scenes are well-written and sure to delight horror fans, but for me personally, too many elements are left undefined, and I needed more of a concrete explanation for what happens to Caroline and Lila. Were their experiences real? Just delusions? I’m not certain. Reviews are split, so if you’re a reader who enjoys ambiguous storylines this may be for you.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.