Sisters. Arguably one of the most complicated types of relationships, these siblings seem to embody the love/hate archetype. Lucinda Rosenfeld’s The Pretty One gives us just such a relationship in the Hellinger sisters: three sisters ready to undermine and outshine each other at every opportunity while also being unable to live without the others.
Perri, the oldest sister and the one deemed “the perfect one”, is secretly happy to live up to that stereotype even as she complains at every step about the pressures that come with it. Perri seems to have it all: beautiful house in the suburbs, handsome husband, three beautiful children and a prosperous business creating and selling home organizers. This perfect façade, however, begins to crumble when her husband, Mike, loses his job and their relationship drifts farther and farther apart. On top of that, Perri begins to feel insecure about herself as she nears her fortieth birthday, especially when her beautiful, chic sister Olympia is around. As her controlled life begins to become more and more uncertain, Perri starts responding to saucy messages from her college boyfriend and ultimately makes the decision to temporarily run away from this life she has so carefully constructed.
When Perri runs away her husband Mike calls on Olympia, “the pretty one”, for help. Struggling as a single mother to four year old Lola, Olympia really doesn’t want the extra hassle. Everyone expects her to be the selfish, conceited one anyway and she has enough on her plate trying to find out who Lola’s sperm donor father is. However, the opportunity to show up her sister Perri and be the responsible one is too much to pass up and Olympia agrees to come to the suburbs and help. But when Mike makes an inappropriate move towards Olympia she must decide where her loyalties lie and exactly what sort of person she truly wants to be.
As her two older sisters deal with their own struggles, Gus, the youngest “political one”, is dealing with her own issues and wishes her family would take her more seriously. After her girlfriend breaks up with her, Gus is as surprised as everyone else when she finds herself attracted to Mike’s flighty yet gorgeous brother. Struggling with her own sexuality and her place within the embattled Hellinger family, Gus must fight every instinct of the moody, youngest child to grow up and think of how she can help her family cope with their many issues.
When it seems that these three sister’s will never come together, a surprise from their father’s past arrives at their doorstep and the sister have no choice but to deal with the immediate issue at hand. Will they ever be able to get along long enough to keep their family intact?
Now I must admit that I don’t have any sisters. However, I have always been fascinated by this relationship. Seeing friends with sisters, it appeared that there is no one they loved more and no one they loved more to hate. In The Pretty One, this relationship seems heavily skewed towards the love to hate side. All three sisters whine almost constantly about the limits they face within the personality boxes they have grown up in while also seeming to relish the security these well defined expectations give them. Each looks at the others as an interloper on their time and happiness while also lamenting how easy the others have it, making them all seem exceedingly selfish. This combined with the fact that they seem to exaggerate everything made it hard to relate to any of them.
This being said, The Pretty One does do a good job of highlighting how the expectations and stereotypes we all grow up with rarely define who we really are. It also shows how much pressure these definitions place on a person trying to live up to being “the one”. In this the Hellinger sisters are perfect examples and I am sure many sisters will be able to find parts of themselves in the characters. For me, however, The Pretty One made me secretly happy to just have a brother.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.