I picked up Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad expecting another story about a marriage on the edge of implosion. What I got wasn’t quite what I expected, which could be either a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. For me, it turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.
The story opens with police arriving at a crime scene in a small town in Kansas. The large puddle of blood on the kitchen floor signals a terrible crime has been committed, but the identities of the victim and the perpetrator are unknown.
We then move backwards in time to six weeks before the night of the crime, where we meet Maddie. She’s a middle-aged woman who has survived a terrible accident, an accident of which she has absolutely no memory, and has decided to embark upon a course of therapeutic writing in hopes of shaking some recollections loose from her damaged mind. Her husband, Ian, tells her she slipped and fell, hitting her head in the process, but the police seem to suspect something far more sinister took place. Maddie doesn’t know who to believe, and she’s suffering from crippling anxiety since she has no idea who she can trust.
We then jump back almost twenty years in time. Maddie is a travel writer working overseas on a series of articles she’s been hired to write. She spends quite a bit of time in Macedonia with her best friend Joanna, and it’s there she and Ian meet for the first time. Ian is a British soldier, but the reader is never exactly sure what has brought him to Macedonia. He and Maddie fall in love, but this causes an irreparable rift in Maddie’s friendship with the enigmatic Joanna.
I was initially fascinated by the many moving parts of this story, but the non-linear timeline and the constantly shifting PoVs made it difficult for me to keep track of events. One chapter might take place in 2017 while the next one shoots back to 2001 and then moves forward to 2010. Each chapter starts with a date which is helpful, but I found it nearly impossible to make sense of the sequence of events.
I don’t usually have an issue with multiple people telling their sides of a story, but some of the perspectives given here felt irrelevant. Plus, many of the people we hear from are incredibly unreliable. Having one or two unreliable narrators is a fine thing, but when the reader feels as though no one is telling the truth, it becomes harder to care about the outcome.
All this might give you the impression that I really didn’t enjoy Beautiful Bad, but that’s not entirely true. Maddie’s character fascinated me from the first time she appeared on the page, and she’s honestly what kept me reading. I was desperate to find out what had really happened to her, and how her injury related to the crime that had been committed. She’s not a character I necessarily liked, but something about her made it impossible for me to put this book down.
Ms. Ward is a very talented writer, and I would definitely read another one of her books some time in the future. She threw in some really clever twists, but the chaotic nature of the story kept me from appreciating them as fully as I might have if the book had been written a little differently. This was a multi-layered story that felt too big for one novel.
Your enjoyment of Beautiful Bad is likely to hinge on your ability to keep track of how and when certain things occurred. Personally, I like things to be laid out in a somewhat orderly fashion, but I know not everyone feels this way. If you’re a reader who doesn’t mind quite a bit of chaos, this one might be right up your alley. Unfortunately, I’m just not that person.