The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi
I LOVED this book. I was therefore mystified when I looked it up on Goodreads and discovered a whole lot of people trashing it with the same vigor you’d expect of someone denouncing the prose in 50 Shades of Grey. It is dawning on me that after my own book comes out, I will never be able to go on Goodreads or Amazon again, because I certainly will not handle it. Based on the vehemence with which people tore this book to shreds, you’d think it had been written by Satan: the worst book I have read; boring, wearisome and flavorless; couldn't wait for it to be over… what?? No! I couldn’t put this book down! It was so well plotted! And then, to my relief, I saw a slew of five-star reviews. So this is one of those love-it-or-hate-it situations.
Okay, I am composing myself. The interesting thing is--and this was unintentional--I happened to read this book immediately after I read The Regulars, a new release that shares a number of common themes. Both books are about young people with the ability to alter their looks, and both emphasize the terrible transformative power of beauty. But in many ways, they are very different.
Here’s the storyline: five young New Yorkers—Barb, Lily, Jack, Penelope and Georgia—have formed an alliance dubbed the Knights of Creation by one of their publicists. Georgia is a novelist, Barb is a costume designer, Penelope an aspiring potter, Lily a musician, and Jack—well, Jack is actually not creative. He’s a disabled cop, who was injured rescuing Penelope after she was kidnapped and held for three days in a coffin. There had been a sixth member of the group, Gabriel, but he died tragically a few years earlier of unrequited love.
And therein lies the problem. Gabriel, driven senseless by Barb’s spectacular beauty, committed suicide. To say that Barb had an unusual reaction to this tragedy would be putting it mildly. Meanwhile, Lily, who possesses a heart of blinding purity, is hideous to behold; so ugly, apparently, that no man will date her, least of all the image-obsessed oaf she’s fallen in love with. Georgia’s laptop—containing her brilliant new novel, which is NOT BACKED UP—is lost in a taxi (oh my God!! Oh my God!!) and then recovered by a handsome news anchor who becomes besotted with one of the friends on the basis of her photo. So beauty, or the lack of it, is making everyone miserable.
There are a couple other distinct plotlines, which ultimately weave together in a marvelously inventive braid. Barb is verbally assaulted on a daily basis by the world’s worst doorman, whom she endlessly forgives. Gabriel pipes up from beyond the grave in a series of pre-written revelatory bombshells, informing the friends that one of their number is hiding a horrendous secret. Every page seems to contain some weirdly inventive, slightly skewed event or conversation or perspective, until you, the reader, have become so accustomed to the unusual that the process of emerging from the book back into your own life is a lesson in prosaic drudgery. I’m normally not a big fan of farcical magical realism, but it works well here. If everything you read needs to be strictly literal, you probably won’t enjoy this book. Otherwise, I highly recommend it.
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