If you think too hard about it, Pretty Revenge collapses like an ill-constructed house of cards. While it starts as a compulsively readable slice of drama with some arch and fun moments, it turns into a weakly plotted mess with a ridiculous revelation and enormous plot holes that ultimately drag it through the dust.
Kerrie O’Malley’s life has hit the skids. Unemployed and angry, she spends her time getting drunk on the couch watching reality TV and having occasional sex with her handsome barely-boyfriend and roommate, a man she doesn’t want to be with. But her life changes when she happens to flip her TV to the right station at the right time, and sees a familiar face conducting an interview.
Jordana Pierson seems to have it all. Running a successful wedding concierge business, she has a seemingly happy marriage and a swanky New York life, but the gloss of her happiness covers up a dark center; her clients are nightmares, and she loathes them, her husband rampantly cheats on her with other women, and her clingy mother is attempting to blackmail her into seeing her physically abusive father before he dies. Jordana climbed the ladder to fame and success the hard way – through a full-on glamorous make-over from troubled Jordan Butler, and she stabbed a few backs on the way up. And one of those backs happened to be Kerrie’s.
Thanks to a revelation in the interview, Kerrie is inspired to immediately go to New York and apply to become Jordana’s assistant, spending the last little bit of money she has to turn herself into the glamorous and blonde Olivia Lewis. Since Jordana took everything from Kerrie, it’s only fair she take everything from her, after all. But will Kerrie’s plot succeed?
There’s a fatal flaw in Pretty Revenge’s cauldron of camp and snark; it wants me to identify with Kerrie/Olivia so badly that it fails to realize Jordana is the more relatable character. What starts out as a splashy, fun read derails and crashes, leaving the reader disappointed.
I ended up sympathizing with Jordana over Kerrie pretty early in the book, and that never really changed. I hoped things would turn around, that Kerrie’s reason for revenge would be reasonable and worthy of the dramatic plan she’d constructed. Part of it is, and actually would have required a much, much more personal gesture than the weaksauce BS Kerrie ultimately dishes out to Jordana. But no – Kerrie’s engaging in this life-destroying rigmarole for mostly shallow reasons. She’s not even claiming vengeance in the name of MacGuffin Character, who never gets blamed for her own culpability in (Huge Inciting Incident); she’s way more concerned with a certain material possession. This is shallow and unbelievable. Kerrie pursued this woman for eighteen years because of this?! She gets more emotional at the sight of a Plot MacGuffin Object than the notion of…well, if you read this (which I absolutely don’t recommend you do) you’ll see. And when we discover why Jordana did what she did, sympathy falls in her favor because it was a) out of desperation and b) fully accidental.
There are a number of plot holes that stop the novel from functioning. I didn’t quite buy that Jordana wouldn’t recognize Kerrie; it’s not like she gets facial reconstruction surgery, she’s still Kerrie, a few years older, with blonde hair and a wax job. They parted when they were both twelve, not when they were little tiny kids who would change drastically. And the author expects me to believe that Kerrie makes this great big miracle dive to New York and gets this job and can instantly afford to live in the most expensive city in the country when she blew all of the nest egg her grandmother left her on this make-over?
And the way in which Kerrie pursues her revenge is… well, slapdash and happenstance-heavy. She kind of sort of falls in love with one of Jordana’s clients, but the romance is rife with infidelity and leads nowhere, except to another subplot involving Kerrie’s neighbor, who wants to take this man down along with Jordana’s husband, and reinvigorate her investigative journalism career.
The plot makes Kerrie a cheating, selfish slimeball, which, again, doesn’t help her likability factor nor does it make her bad or bitchy enough to be interesting. The whole crux of her revenge plot is ridiculous: since Jordana hates her husband and the job she took up to make her life more fulfilling and wants out of both, Kerrie trying to ruin her husband and thus Kerrie’s reputation isn’t even much of a revenge.The MacGuffin that solves the plot is something she stumbles on by mistake. In the end, she doesn’t triumph over Jordana so much as she gets at her through someone else and calls it a victory. It’s petty and ultimately stupid, and the final gesture of reconciliation made absolutely no sense when you take into effect what we know of the central crime. Also that’s not how people connected to massive fraud cases move their assets, author.
I wasn’t helped along the way by amateurish writing that felt like it escaped from a D-grade Gossip Girl retread. There’s nothing exciting or interesting about Liebert’s narrative voice that makes the book worth picking up even once.
Pretty Revenge wants to be good trash, but it’s not daring or campy enough to reach that level. It’s not even a successful revenge fantasy. The only fantasy it’s likely to contribute to will be many a Goodwill manager as they stare at the unsold copies lingering on their shelves and pray they fly out the door.
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