Book Review: “Everyone’s Pretty” by Lydia Millet

March 4, 2012 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Last year, when I was struggling with my masters project (a black comedy set in an office), my supervisor recommended Lydia Millet’s Everyone’s Pretty.

Though Millet is a PEN-USA Award-winning author, the book is regarded as somewhat obscure, but my supervisor raved about the the cracking narrative style and the novel’s subject matter — pornography — so I purchased it online from The Book Depository immediately. The inspiration for the book apparently came from Millet’s old job as a copy editor for Hustler, which boosted my expectations up a couple more notches.

Due to the long list of books on my ‘to read’ list, I didn’t get around to it until November, and due to some other other books that I had to read for review purposes or simply because I wanted to badly, I didn’t actually end up finishing it until just a few weeks ago.  I guess that pretty much sums up my feelings about the book — good but not quite good enough to sustain my interest long enough for me to want to get through it in a hurry.

As it turned out, the book is not about the pornography industry, much to my disappointment.  It’s really a farcical satire about contemporary American life, starring a delusional pornographer by the name of Dean Decetes, a habitual liar, an immoral sex fiend, an alcoholic low-life who lives off his poor Catholic sister, Bucella, who is in love with her obviously gay boss and works with an uber religious Christian scientist who is married to a mentally challenge and depraved blonde bombshell.  Oh, and there’s also an extremely ugly, sexually starved midget and a teenage girl/maths whiz who is obsessed with complex equations. You get the picture, right?

Everyone’s Pretty doesn’t have any obvious structure — it just goes (chronologically) from scene to scene, character to character at a break-neck pace, and some scenes are over even before you figure out what the heck is going on.  All you do know as that all the characters are heading towards some kind of major, catastrophic collision down the track.

A lot of the confusion has to do with Millet’s writing style, which is undoubtedly brilliant but is what I would call an acquired taste.  It jumps around like a mini-hurricane, throwing curveballs at you from all directions, sprinkled with occasional nuggets of pure comedic gold.  At times it comes across like an awesome screenplay, but at other times it becomes incredibly jarring.

Perhaps it’s an indictment of my comprehension skills more than anything else, but I often struggled with it — it’s the type of book that ought to be a light, brisk read requiring minimal effort, but I found that if I didn’t put enough attention into it I would miss bits and pieces here and there while missing jokes that don’t deserve to be missed.

To be fair, there were some excellent scenes and several laugh-out-loud moments created by Millet’s wonderfully bizarre and depraved characters and their wacky conversations and internal monologues.  However, because I picked up and put down the book so many times, I found that I really never got into the narrative like I should have, and as a result it wasn’t anywhere near as compelling as I wanted it to be.

2.5 out of 5