Such a Pretty Face
I have read each and every book by Annabelle Costa and for me all have been A-/B+ reads. Until this one. This story, told by Emily, a twenty-seven-year-old virgin, tells how she finally finds love with Brody. We first meet Emily as she undergoes a physical exam by a doctor as part of her employment and we learn that she is grossly overweight and is told that her obesity is now at the stage that she needs to take steps to get it (and thus her life) under control. We find out that she has a very good job and is pursuing an MA in night classes in order to further her career in IT. One night she meets a new class member, Brody, who arrives in a power wheelchair and in due course she realises she is attracted to him. Brody, who is several years older, appears to be a well-adjusted man, a typical Costa hero, who begins a friendship with Emily. This friendship is marked by the difficulties she has in dealing with her appearance and that he has in needing personal care on a daily basis.
I the author’s honest approach towards severe obesity and that she doesn’t glorify it, as I have seen done in books by other writers. Written in the first person, we really get inside the mind of our heroine and hers is quite a journey as she tells us a lot about life as a grossly and dangerously overweight person in a normal-sized person’s world. Emily is not getting any sympathy or support from family, friends or work colleagues, and all seem to harp on her weight and inability to control her eating, and all have some plan to offer Emily to help her to lose weight – all of which she rejects. Some people are kinder than others whilst some are really very nasty to her which, of course, just makes her eat another pizza for self-comfort. The author shows, very clearly, that Emily does not fit in because she is a failure in the eyes of others and she is a failure in her own estimation. But the point not made – and it’s a terribly important one – is that Emily has genuine options to get herself to a more acceptable and healthy weight. There is no mention at all that she has considered (or even knows about) some of the more radical solutions that would be offered to a person with her BMI such as bariatric surgery – which is only alluded to in the epilogue to the story – or even that she had been offered counselling or group therapy to help her deal with her eating disorder. She’s been fat all of her life, and surely an intelligent woman with a BA, and studying for an MA, would be aware of the overwhelming likelihood of diabetes, super high blood pressure, very high cholesterol, breathing issues, etc. that arise as a result of being so overweight – it’s in the media constantly. I found it unbelievable that none of these things seem to cross her mind until she is so tightly wedged into her bathtub that it takes four paramedics to extract her. I am not a sylph myself and don’t like to judge others but really, Emily’s life is just one long and sad suicide note.
Due to her previous lack of social life, Emily plays about on dating sites, telling lies, using fake photos, enticing men into telephone sex but she is still that twenty-seve-year-old virgin who has never been kissed. As for our hero, Brody, well, as mentioned above he is a typical Costa hero who is also dealing with a severe disability, and as we learn about his enforced lifestyle the reader begins to be filled with admiration for him. However, we don’t find out until the end that he has personality and addiction issues that he has kept very well hidden and suddenly, I really didn’t like him or his friends and family much anymore – his poor martyr of a mother excepted. And I was not sure I trusted that either he or Emily would be able to make a successful life together. I hesitate to say that they were both so damaged mentally and physically that they were probably attracted to each other just because of that. It is cruel to suggest that a more physically able person with fewer mental issues would find either of them sexually or socially attractive but I am afraid that was how I felt at the end of this story.
I am giving this a B- grade because Costa has at least written about an issue that seems, in romantic fiction, to be addressed with too light a hand but I think she has failed to show that there are options for Emily: she can get help and make positive changes to her life, difficult though it is. Costa has made us experience having that huge rear end that knocks things off tables in restaurants, the near impossibility of finding clothing that fits let alone flatters, breaking furniture when sitting down and dealing with the disgust that many express to people in Emily’s situation. For Brody, the inability to get out of bed without the help of a carer or get an erection without medication is painful and we can sympathise with the picture Costa give us of his life.
Such a Pretty Face is not a light read, but Costa has made a brave point and writes very well. It gave cause for thought, but at the end of the story I found I neither liked nor admired Emily or Brody very much. I was glad I read this book, but was also glad when I finished it because it was far from a romance as I generally know it.
~ Elaine S.