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Review of T. Greenwood’s Such a Pretty Girl, a daring novel of childhood fame, responsibility, and family in 1970s NYC

Click. Ryan Flannigan nonetheless flinches on the sound of a digital camera shutter, because it remembers her adolescence as a little one mannequin and actress and the unwelcome consideration she obtained from adults wanting to take advantage of her pre-teen prettiness. Now, in 2019, Ryan is a single mom in her early fifties dwelling in rural Vermont, the place she’s helped run a summer season inventory theater and quietly raised her daughter.

When an outdated pal alerts her to a information article with a risqué portrait from the worst evening of her life, one taken through the New York City blackout of 1977, Ryan is shocked and confused. How did the photograph come to resurface in the Paris condo of billionaire Zev Brenner, a man not too long ago unmasked as a pedophile? And why does it bear an affectionate inscription from Ryan’s mom, Fiona, on the again?

The subsequent suicide of Henri Dubois, an aged photographer who’d been a father determine to younger Ryan, attracts her again to Greenwich Village for his memorial and in search of solutions. Ryan by no means knew Brenner, however now she wonders how a lot her mom knew about his crimes. Fiona, nonetheless, has disappeared.

As the story shifts between eras, pressure retains this query open as Greenwood explores the fraught relationship between Ryan and Fiona, a would-be actress who moved the pair to New York in 1976 and lived by her daughter when her personal auditions led nowhere. Adult novels with little one narrators could be tough, however Greenwood principally stays inside 10-year-old Ryan’s worldview in the 1970s sections. Introverted and anxiety-prone, Ryan adjusts properly to the Westbeth advanced, a real-life artists’ group, the place she lives with a Hispanic American family who cares for her throughout Fiona’s too-frequent absences.

Ryan takes pleasure in doing child issues, and we really feel her disconnect with the roles some adults manipulate her into, alongside her reluctance to disappoint. Alternately loving, neglectful, protecting, and jealous of her daughter, Fiona herself is multifaceted and disturbingly drawn, a lady whose “need was like a balloon, stretched to its limits.”

Several components distract from the thriller, just like the grownup Ryan’s unwillingness to learn a word left for her by Fiona, thus delaying some revelations for plot comfort. Also, the title Ryan was virtually by no means used for ladies born in ’66, and I want Greenwood had let Ryan ponder some of Henri’s actions in better depth.

Other cultural references to a ‘70s childhood – decorating shoeboxes for school Valentine’s Day actions, the Hall of Gems on the American Museum of Natural History, watching American Bandstand on Saturdays – all take a look at. It wasn’t shocking to be taught the writer is my age and lived by the time she re-creates.

With Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes and Brooke Shields’ painful childhood experiences nonetheless circulating in the information, the novel’s theme of the “battle against a world in which girls are still often in peril” continues to strongly resonate. The novel presents a lot to ponder about what it means to be complicit.

T. Greenwood’s Such a Pretty Girl was printed by Kensington in October 2022; this was a private buy.


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