on May 16, 2003
I read this book when it first came out in hardcover and I recently saw it in the bookstore in paperback. I love the cover! The hunky picture of Billy Lee will tickle your ovaries as you nod to yourself reading of Lucy Fooshee's predicament. Yes, her good looks and unruly passions have driven her life's actions. Her passionately ambitious ego needed to find a way for her to
shine amidst the humdrum predictability of the small town into which she was born and raised. Was she unconciously programmed to create the train wreck we could see coming for many chapters? Her life was not about the intellect or reason. She was not remotely sensible. She drove me crazy! My inner mantra as I read was "Don't do it! Don't do it!" It became hard to turn the page. But that was the fun of it, watching my own reaction to this woman who catches sexual fire and refuses to douse the flames. Then comes the power of transformation that probably required the train wreck to occur. I wonder if we can hope for a sequel with the new awakened Lucy. We get only a taste of her and I suspect those passions will continue to express themselves in new hopefully less destructive ways, but I'd like to know.
on May 14, 2002
Allison Clements pulls off an amazing feat in her debut novel. She creates a character who is vain, selfish, and not particularly self-aware, lets her tell her story in the first person, and makes us cheer for her!
Even as some very predictable plot points come along, when the reader knows exactly what's going to happen and knows it will happen because of the character's flaws, we still hold our breath and hope it somehow will come out all right.
There's a lot of small town stuff that rings true in this amazing novel, and there's a great twist at the end that the reader WILL NOT see coming. There's also a sort of timelessness. Clements has carefully not cemented the story into a specific time or decade, so we can all feel as if it's part of our own life.
In the end, it's not about whether Lucy can get together with Billy Lee. It's about whether she will find out who SHE is. That journey turns out to be incredibly entertaining. This is a perfect summer book. A lot of fun and a great read.
on January 9, 2002
Lucy Fooshee Bybee, the beleaguered protagonist of Alison's Clement convincing debut novel, has a problem. Trapped in the socially suffocating environment of Palmyra, Illinois is pre-feminist, mid twentieth-century America, Lucy yearns for a release from the psychological imprisonment she suffers in a mistaken marriage; she knows her life is out of kilter -- despite being blessed/cursed with exquisite physical beauty -- but she is not sure of the direction or actions she must take to liberate herself and discover her own authentic self. "Pretty Is As Pretty Does" is far more than one woman's quest for existential wholeness; it is a biting social commentary and s scathing expose of what women across America experienced in a culture which extolled their physical self and minimized their emotional needs and intellectual capabilities. This is an extraordinarily capable and important fist novel.
Set in a time where feminist complaints were inaudible and a place where small-town virtues locked women into subordinate roles, "Pretty" explores the explosive consequences when one woman takes control of her own life. This was an America where a woman's good looks were perceived as the best asset to a happy life -- all attained through marriage to one of the town's wealthiest men, of course. Lucy is acutely aware of the fleeting nature of her own beauty; she even algebraically computes the half-life of her attractivenss. Restless, angry, sexually unfulfilled and absolutely convinced that life must have more to offer than watching her porcine husband shovel mounds of food into his mouth, Lucy does not have the array of answers and options clearly available to liberated women of contemporary times. Ironically, and unconsciously, Lucy seeks fulfillment of her repressed sexual longnings and suppressed existential yearnings through the symbolically-rich character of Billy Lee. Indeed, Billy's presence as a stranger in the parochial town of Palmyra increases his allure.
For Palmyra is a quintessentially sterile town. It pounds down individuality and siphons away hopes. Lucy seethes as she reminds us that in her town "thins only come in a couple of colors. You got your brown and blue and green...What you do in Palmyra is you make a compromise. You take something else, instead of what you want." After but two weeks in a sterile, ugly marriage, Lucy realizes that the seemingly bland townspeople of Palmyra are silently lusting for her to fall, for her to accept being married to corpulent, predictable Bob.
Lucy's attraction to the sultry Billy Lee is not only fraught with sexual tension; it comes to symbolize the difficulties any woman would have in a stifling social system to realize her own identity. Against her better judgment, she invests him with far more power than he actually has. Billy senses that Lucy perceives him to be a significant catalyst and he rejects that role while subtlely encouraging her sexual overtures. Lucy is aroused by Bill's initial refusal to be beguiled by her beauty; one of the delicious ironies of "Pretty" is that the beautiful sexual goddess of the Midwest becomes the beguiled.
Alison Clement has written much more than a biting social satire, however. She adroitly tackles such serious themes as class resentment, sexual fulfillment and racial prejudice. In fact, the interweaving of thematic difficulties with a strong narrative is one of the signal successes of the novel. Characterizations never devolve into caricatures; the crippling aspects of small town life often appear under more anonymous circumstances in our nation's larger metropolises. "Pretty Is As Pretty Does" will enrage, tickle and inspire. Through Lucy's arduous struggle to adulthood, Alison Clement encourages her readers to fight their own battles for personal liberation.
on November 16, 2001
This is a story about a local beauty queen and her fall from grace. It is told through the eyes of Lucy Fooshee (Foo-shay)-- an ultimately likable young woman whose passion for Billy Lee ("a stranger with no prospects") literally transforms her:
... "People think they know what love means, but they don't. Until you know, you just have no idea. You think you know, but you don't. And when you do know, then nothing else matters. Nobody in Palmyra knows. I've lived with these people all my life and now that I know, I can tell none of them do. It's like one of those dog whistles you blow and nobody can hear a thing, but all the dogs bark and whine and go crazy. And whenever Billy is around me that dog whistle is blowing and nobody else bats a eye..."
Lucy is a character with many shortcomings: she is vain, self-centered, manipulative, fickle, and selfish -- but her witty observations about her smalltown surroundings are right on. Her voice captures the smallness (both literally and figuratively) of Palmyra, Illinois: its petty jealousies, their patterns of speech, the blatant racism, and the peevishness of its townfolk. I found myself cheering her on despite her actions. I empathized with her feelings of boredom, the expectations of her family, and her oafish husband:
... "Everybody would say I wronged Bob when I took Billy to the Holiday Inn motel and laid in bed with him there, but that wasn't nothing compared to this. My real adultery is here at the window when I watch him work and I don't want anything else and nobody else and I know that I'll never go back to Bob and who I was when I was with Bob. I'll never sleep with Bob again, I tell myself. I'm not his wife anymore, if I ever was... "
This is a gripping read about a young woman who makes the wrong choice early in her life. Lucy Fooshee is the kind of heroine that would make Oprah proud. Alison Clement has created a character who is flawed, spirited, and fun. Read this book -- you will not be disappointed!
on September 7, 2001
What happens when you fall in love--two weeks after you've married the man you're supposed to marry?
Lucy Fooshee, the local beauty newly hitched to farmer Bob Bybee, has dreams and yearnings unacceptable to the unspoken but rigid social rules of Palmyra, Illinois. She can't even get the color thread she wants due to the lack of choices in her small town. In Lucy's words, "What you do in Palmyra is you make a compromise. You take green and not turquoise. You take something else, instead of what you want."
While Lucy is spoiled and self-centered, we relate to her wanting what she can't have. And as we get deeper into the story, Alison Clement shows us how Palmyra made Lucy who she is. Clement demonstrates impressive technical skill by telling the story in Lucy's voice, yet giving the reader insight beyond Lucy's scope of insight. The characters--Lucy, Bob, Billy Lee, Evaline, Mama, Mother Bybee, Aunt Babe, and a cast of eccentric extras--are vivid and human.
I love novels that make me change my mind about the characters as I read along. We may not like Lucy, but Clement's fine writing helps us understand her. I highly recommend this original book.
on September 21, 2001
Alison Clement's *Pretty Is As Pretty Does* is a deceptively simple novel. Its plot revolves around Lucy Fooshee, a beauty queen living in a small Illinois town whose culture of propriety and conservative values jar with her free spirit. The simplicity of the novel, however, dissolves into a tale of subtle complexity as Clement calls into question most of the prescribed notions of how Lucy's life "should" go within a town inhabited by too many bigoted individuals. The ego-centered Lucy of the first chapter transforms herself, by the novel's end, into an independent woman who finally has grown to understand the transformative powers of sharing and love. Clement's unique voice, her keen sense of place, and her wonderful humor animate her debut novel. Clement displays a creative intelligence and wit that make this an engaging and refreshing novel. Hers is a fresh and new voice, one deserving of much praise.
on October 10, 2001
Having grown up in a small close-knit community in Illinois, I identified with many of the issues confronting Lucy, the main character in *Pretty is as Pretty Does.* I especially appreciated the author's way of capturing the narrowness and naivite of such small Midwestern towns and especially of the plight of the young people raised in that environment. Lucy fell right into the role expected of her, and her prettiness opened the door to the maximum opportunity offered in such a setting: marriage. Only after meeting Billy did she understand passion. Her unbridled passion was what seemed so uncharacteristically Midwestern to me. Clement's book captured a lot of that smalltown sentiment, and her images of not only the town activities but also the characters rang true. I like the fact that a person from such a background can break the mold. Doing it with humor like Lucy is even more entertaining.
on May 20, 2003
Instead of Eudora Welty's "Why I live at the P.O.," it could very well be Alison Clement's "Why I'm Leaving Palmyra." In a running first person dialogue, Palmyra resident, Lucy Fooshee, describes small town life from a very subjective point of view. While Lucy tells the story, her own blatant character flaws are humorously exposed.
As a result, we seem to enjoy loving or hating the vain, self-absorbed Lucy. Our strong reactions indicate that the main character has enough depth to actively engage the reader. By the end of the book, defenders of Lucy Fooshee are pleased to discover there are hints of her maturity on the horizon. Who knows? Perhaps someday Fooshee fans will find out if there's life for Lucy AFTER Palmyra.
on April 6, 2002
I highly recommend this book. It's vernacular writing creates an aura of in-your-face honesty. The flawed heroine is Lucy Fooshee, a former beauty queen from a small town in southern Illinois. She's spunky, brash and often hilarious, sporting her tiara and pouty lips with pride. Lucy stops at nothing to win the heart of the best looking man in town, even though she's been married to someone else for only two weeks.
In this book, Ms. Clement captures the rhythm of small town life, complete with elements of sexism, racism and class. But this book is no stuffy morality tale. The words fly off the page, providing the reader with passion, longing and lots of laughter.
on May 10, 2003
Lucy Fooshee (Foo-SHAY, from the French she reminds us) is a teen beauty queen who had followed the conventions that she took in with her momma's milk and that have been reinforced by all of her experiences -- until she meets Billy Lee, an outsider in her small midwestern hometown.
In her own voice, Lucy documents her history, her situation, her perceptions and unwittingly her self-discoveries.
The story of Lucy Fooshee is readably colloquial and at times uncannily familiar! Any woman who has grown up in a small town will identify with Lucy's dilemma; in fact, anyone who has grown up will cheer Lucy on!