Beauty Queens (by Libba Bray)

21 07 2011

Shaken, not stirred. Yes,… please! Give the cat an explosive cocktail of nerdy to the power of awesome blended with a compassionate story about finding yourself, and she’s there. So it was with anticipatory giddy excitement that the cat opened the nice Amazon box containing the latest batch of literary goodies, such as Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker and Libba Bray’s latest exploit, Beauty Queens . Alas, alas…it saddens the cat deeply to say that Beauty Queens was the biggest disappointment since err… the Lost finale.

The premise of the book was promising enough, though. Imagine a female Lord of the Flies, or as Mary Lou says: “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”  So, being Libba Bray, this is an idea you take and you just run with it, no, you rocket-run with it, because there is no subtlety whatsoever left once you finish this Lost-like tale of island inhabitants in search of themselves. In this overly over-the-top satirical take on *anything* that makes Western (pop) culture as despicable as it makes it entertaining, subtlety and nuance have been replaced by  (and it hurts the cat to say it) overt preaching and dogmatic thinking.

Whatever made Going Bovine such a pleasure to read – despite its obvious messiness – was the sense of compassion and honest to god heartfelt-ness of Cameron’s journey. Another notable fact was that the authorial voice was never intrusive: Cameron – and the reader – could make up his own mind about the Important Facts of Life. No such thing here: this is satire, y’all, to be taken with a bucket of salt… The reader is forced to come to the same conclusion as the authorial voice. Despite the fact that you might agree with some of the issues raised (female empowerment and all that, you know, can’t be against that) and the answers offered, being (too) tongue-in-cheek does not give you the all clear to shove ideas down your readers’ throat!

That frustration being voiced, that is not to say that Beauty Queens doesn’t have great moments – Libba Bray being Libba Bray, there’s snark galore, and that’s just always a bundle of fun. The cat also liked the personal stories of some of the Misses. Petra (former boy band member), for instance, is by far the most interesting character, but there are also some nice background stories to Mary Lou (the wild one) and Sosie (the deaf girl, who “figured out early that nobody liked an angry disabled person”). But that’s all they are…nice moments. I guess this is what the cat missed most here, some overall sense of focus. Beauty Queens is just a big bowl of everythingness shaken to form an only thinly veiled critique on, and satire of, contemporary American society. There are bits and pieces of niceness all over the place (just like in society), some great satirical, almost (but not quite) laugh-out-loud funny scenes and/or characters. However, the grander scheme of things is sorely lacking here (also like in society?).  The ‘can you please shut up now, so I can continue reading my book’-factor that made of Going Bovine such an unmissable book is just not there.  The fact that getting through Beauty Queens sometimes almost felt like a chore is a sign to the cat that some of the authorial and/or editorial decisions were a complete miss.

Having a messy, all over the place, book is OK, great even (Going Bovine is proof of that) if the mess is there to contribute to readability and the overall sense of story. The cat never got this with Beauty Queens: it’s just all a bit too… too satirical, too made, too messy, too contrived. That cat half expected to find a polar bear on every next page!

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24 10 2012
The Diviners (by Libba Bray) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] been a mixed bag: from the incredibly übertastic Going Bovine to the almost shockingly atrocious Beauty Queens. Clearly there must be something that – for the cat – works and something that just doesn’t […]

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