Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl (novel)

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

On a stormy night in 1968, a young woman and an older black man arrive at the door of an aging widow's farmhouse. With them is a very newly born baby. The young woman is intellectually disabled; she has escaped the institution in which she has lived since childhood, with the help of her companion, who is deaf, to give birth to this baby, the result of a brutal rape at the hands of an institution staff member. Before the night is over, police, searching for the two escaped residents of "The School" as the institution is known, raid the widow's home and haul Lynnie, the young woman, back to the institution, but not before she manages to hide her newborn daughter in the old woman's attic, and her companion manages to escape into the woods.

The story follows the next forty-plus years, during which the old woman raises the baby, hiding the child's parentage and heritage; Lynnie survives many more years at the institution before it is finally closed down, living constantly with a hole in her heart for her baby, and Homan, her companion of that fateful night, spends years on the run, but always hungering to find his way back to Lynnie - or "Beautiful Girl" as he has named her - and the baby, who, although he didn't father, he did help deliver on that rainy night in 1968.

I really, really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. The premise drew me in, but I found that the way the author chose to present each chapter from a different character's point of view, and with several years lapsing between each chapter, it was difficult to become attached to any of the characters. It felt like there were too many time-gaps; I think the story could have been much more engaging had it been told entirely from a third-person omniscient narrative perspective, with a smoother, more filled in time-line. I also found the overall story to be just plain hard to believe; at its heart, it's a feel-good story with happy endings, and I didn't find it to be realistic given the subject matter and general premise of the story. Overall, it's a very readable book, but I think it could have been so much more.

My hardcover is up for grabs.

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