Murder mystery ties in messages of opportunity and class privilege

Two stories come together in ‘So Much Pretty’ to create a page-turner (Photo courtesy of

Disturbing. Compelling. Upsetting. Masterful.

I could go on and on about how amazing this novel, “So Much Pretty” by Cara Hoffman, is. The plot is deceptively simple. Wendy White, a cheerful, well-liked young woman disappears in rural upstate New York. Months later, her remains are found and a drifter is accused of her abduction and eventual death. After all, no one in the small, poor, close-knit dairy town could have committed such a crime.

To all but Stacy Flynn, a recently transplanted reporter out to make a name for herself in the boonies, this is a sad but familiar story. Flynn pesters the police and the coroner and interrogates Wendy’s friends, relatives and boyfriend. She wonders if there is a sinister tie-in to the town’s only employer and noxious polluter, the huge dairy farm owned by her boyfriend’s family. Standard murder mystery, maybe flavored with a dash of environmental conscience?  Wrong.

“So Much Pretty” is also the story of newcomers Gene and Claire Piper, gentle hippie-ish fugitives from New York City and former Doctors Without Borders looking for a return to the simple life. They are the parents of precocious, loveable and socially responsible 15-year old Alice. The Pipers love peaceful and beautiful Haeden despite the community’s resistance to the family; there are few residents who share their cultural and environmental interests. Quietly, Hoffman builds a concurrent story about the lack of opportunity in decaying rural communities, class privilege and reality and morality.

Wendy and Alice’s stories tragically and explosively intertwine by the conclusion of the book. Hoffman leaves the shell-shocked reader with some indelible images and no simple solutions. This is a novel to read and talk about and then read all over again. “So Much Pretty” is the best book I’ve read this year and also the most unsettling.