Pretty Little World

Pretty Little WorldPretty Little World by Elizabeth LaBan, Melissa DePino
Genres: Contemporary
Published by Lake Union on January 17, 2017
Pages: 320

 

Publisher’s Summary:

On a cozy street in Philadelphia, three neighboring families have become the best of friends. They can’t imagine life without one another—until one family outgrows their tiny row house. In a bid to stay together, a crazy idea is born: What if they tear down the walls between their homes and live together under one roof? And so an experiment begins.

Celia and Mark now have the space they need. But is this really what Celia’s increasingly distant husband wants? Stephanie embraces the idea of one big, happy family, but has she considered how it may exacerbate the stark differences between her and her husband, Chris? While Hope always wanted a larger family with Leo, will caring for all the children really satisfy that need?

Behind closed doors, they strive to preserve the closeness they treasure. But when boundaries are blurred, they are forced to question their choices…and reimagine the true meaning of family.

I often find that the hardest reviews to write are the ones where I didn’t love or hate the book, but fall somewhere in between, in the awkward “It was okay” territory. It’s not so much that I was disappointed—I haven’t read many books that explore the aspect of communal living, so it’s not like I had much to compare Pretty Little World to—it just didn’t exactly enthral me. It was definitely an easy read, and I sped through it in a couple of days, but it just didn’t have that special something that pushed into the category where I loved it or raved about it to my friends.

I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction outside of the romance market, but I knew that I had to read this one as soon as the press release arrived in my inbox. I’ve become a bit of a hippy of late, and I love the idea of living close enough to your support network of friends (especially in a society were few people live around the corner from their extended families any more) that you can pop over to help with childcare or cook each other meals on a regular basis. I looked forward to seeing how the characters in Pretty Little World adapted to their new living arrangement and figured out whether it really was feasible.

I think one of the biggest issues with this novel is that it has a large cast of characters.

I think one of the biggest issues with this novel is that it has a large cast of characters. We’re given insights into the thoughts of all six adults in the “commune”, plus one outsider who lives in the same street. That’s a lot of people to keep track of, and sometimes the character development was a little lacking. Celia in particular felt like a cardboard cut-out right up until the end of the book, when her issues finally rise to the surface. I feel like this is a pretty natural problem in a book of this length with such a large cast of characters. At the same time, I kind of wished we’d had some insights into how the children adapted to the change in living arrangements. I’m not sure how feasible it would be to work this into the novel, given that it already has seven adult protagonists, but at times the children felt almost invisible.

The two characters who I related to the most were Stephanie and Hope. I understood Stephanie’s idealistic, hippyish outlook on life, which often involves random dance parties with her kid instead of sorting laundry. I had more of a personal connection to Hope, possibly because she’s one of the characters who developed most over the course of the novel. When we first meet her, she’s struggling with the heartache of trying and failing to get pregnant with a second child, and eventually finds some fulfilment through caring for her friends’ children—and realises just how difficult her life could be if she did have a large family on a full-time basis, and begins appreciating the precious time she has with her daughter more. As a mother of one who has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for almost eighteen months, Hope’s journey felt authentic, and I’m sure it will speak to a lot of women.

Hope’s journey felt authentic, and I’m sure it will speak to a lot of women.

I wish I could say the same about the other characters in Pretty Little World, but some of their journeys felt a bit underdeveloped. Stephanie’s desire not to have more children clashed interestingly against Hope’s struggle, and at one point this conflict did come to a head—and then kind of petered out, as if the two women had just forgotten about it. This conflict (which I don’t want to go into too much detail about, because spoilers!) also had the potential to reveal some interesting insight into Stephanie and Chris’ marriage, but again, that was kind of skimmed over.

There was a lot of inter-marital conflict in this book, and maybe I’m just not the right market for this book, but I found it really depressing. Not one adult in the novel seemed to be happy in their marriage. Obviously, a book about three couples who are content in their marriages and have no problems is going to make for a boring read, but I did get seriously fed up with all of these characters. Hope and Chris were probably the most innocent—they bonded over caring for the kids, their love of fast-food and literature, and generally seemed to have a pretty functional friendship, aside from Chris constantly jokingly referring to Hope as his “second wife”. Stephanie and Leo bonded over their love of fine food and alcohol, and seriously crossed the boundary of what I’d consider acceptable in a marriage—and I consider myself relatively liberal. Mark’s behaviour, while a bit cliché, developed pretty realistically. I just wish we’d had more of Celia’s perspective on the situation earlier in the novel.

I’m entirely certain that this sort of blurring of the boundaries of marriages is natural when living in close quarters, but I think reading about so many unstable, unhappy marriages really got to me after a while.

There were some really heart-warming moments where all of the families rallied around each other in times of crisis, and some interesting moments where they had to deal with small conflicts, like people taking items from other apartments without asking, or Hope struggling to look after all the kids when they get sick. I just wish there had been more of these sorts of conflicts as opposed to the inter-marital drama. I’m entirely certain that this sort of blurring of the boundaries of marriages is natural when living in close quarters, but I think reading about so many unstable, unhappy marriages really got to me after a while. By the end, I was kind of fed up with everyone and just wished they’d actually talk to their spouses about their problems, rather than each other.

On the whole? I have very mixed feelings about Pretty Little World. The communal-living idea is interesting, and not one I’ve come across much in fiction. I really liked the ending, especially since it reinforced the reasons they wanted to live together and how important that sort of support network can be in times of crisis. I just got tired of all the marital dysfunction. This may be a personal annoyance of mine, and not one that every reader struggles with. If the concept behind Pretty Little World intrigues you, go for it! It’s certainly a unique premise.

Disclaimer: This is a general market novel and contains scenes of a sexual nature, plus some instances of profanity.

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