The Pretty Ones

June 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

prettyThe Pretty Ones by Ania Ahlborn

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Before I bought this novella, I had never heard of Ania Ahlborn. All I knew was that she wrote horror, people seemed to think she wrote good horror, and that this story was only 99 cents as an ebook. I’m always looking for new writers (and good horror), and I figured 99 cents was an easy investment.

The Pretty Ones is about Nell, an introverted, overweight, mousy woman who lives with her emotionally abusive brother in late-1970s New York. She works at an office populated by prettier women, women who get along in and out of work, but Nell is obsessed with living a sin-free life and providing for her brother and absolutely not becoming like her mother. She’s not an easy character to like, because she lets others bully her (aside from her brother, who manipulates her with his silence and insults, there are the Mean Girls in the office), but she is an empathetic character. We understand why she’s the way she is, even if we want to scream at her to be the person she could be.

Nell has a quiet desperation to make friends, but she’s so socially stunted that she doesn’t know how to do so. Ahlborn captures that desperation perfectly, enough so that it was almost too much for me to read. I remember being that kid, the outcast who just wanted people to like him, and this story took me back to those times. It made me angry, first at Nell, then later at myself for ever being that kind of person, and for still having some of those traits, even thirty years later. It was too close, enough so that after finishing half the story in one afternoon, I sank into a depressed funk for the rest of the day. Ahlborn shows us that loneliness and desperation so clearly, it sinks under our skin and becomes a part of us.

The thing is, the best fiction is the kind that gets an emotional response from you, and a negative emotional response is still an emotional response. I feel the same way about Geek Love, a book that was so tough to read that I almost put it down, unfinished, due to how much it offended me. The fact that it could do so, to someone who has read Chuck Palahniuk and Edward Lee, is a testament to how well it was written. The same could be said of The Pretty Ones.

Ahlborn’s character development of Nell is the real point of this novella, which is important to note because the story is somewhat predictable, and has been done many times before. I hesitate to say it’s not original, because Ahlborn’s character study is what makes this novella stand out, but anyone reading this story for its plot will find similarities with other horror and thriller stories.

I didn’t expect much from this novella going in to it, but boy did it surprise me. I knew even a quarter of the way through I had found a new author to read.

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