Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler

If you don’t laugh/snigger within the first chapter of Kirker Butler’s Pretty Ugly, put the book down. Please don’t plough-on and then carry-on about politically incorrect humour. Because that’s just boring for everyone.

The story is about the Millers, your typical dysfunctional American family. There’s Miranda, the social-climbing stage mom; nine-year-old pageant queen, Bailey; Ray, the philandering husband who works around the clock as a nurse to keep Miranda and Bailey in pageants and to keep his 17-year-old girlfriend, Courtney, happy; and the crazy grandmother, Joan, who has a hotline to Jesus.

The core of the story pokes fun at the kid-beauty-pageant-circuit. Is the joke overworked? Maybe. Then again, no – the circuit is beyond ridiculous.

“After eight and a half years and three hundred and sixty-three pageants, Miranda was pretty sure she’d thought of everything, but this had never even occurred to her… If she’d overlooked something as fundamental as her nine-year-old daughter’s sex appeal, what else had she missed?”

And while Miranda is saying things such as “…not everyone can be blessed with an eating disorder. Some of us have to work to stay thin.”, husband Ray is indulging in his hobby – popping random pharmaceutical samples he finds at the hospital and waiting to see what the effects are. Despite his incredibly long list of faults, you can’t help but feel sorry for Ray, even just a little.

“Ray had stopped drinking cough syrup with codeine, letting his colon return to its standard regularity and his outlook to its standard despondency. Being able to shit comfortably was the one genuine bright spot in Ray’s life.”

Pageants are a relatievly easy target but Butler manages good, consistent writing as well as the gags.

“The room reeks of anxiety, self-tanner, and schadenfreude.”

I read Pretty Ugly as a deliberate change-of-pace during my Stella Prize shortlist reading. It fitted the bill perfectly and was about as far as I could get from the set-in-Australia-drama-heavy-contemporary-literature that I’d been focused on.

3/5 It’s completely tasteless, offensive and vulgar. Just go with it and laugh.

Bailey’s systematic effort to gain weight and force her out of pageants is brilliant.

“It had been a difficult year, especially after Miranda started monitoring her food and making her work out like Madonna. But if pageants had taught her anything, it was patience and determination.”

I hope Bailey can enjoy these Chewy Potato Chip Chocolate Chip Cookies from How Sweet It Is.

I received my copy of Pretty Ugly from the publisher, St.Martin’s Press via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.


5 responses

    • Honestly, it’s fairly crude in some bits but also really funny. The author also writes the tv series Family Guy – not something I’ve watched but I gather it’s The Simpsons meets South Park.

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