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Bebe Baker is a survivor. A transplant from Toledo, Ohio, Bebe follows her musician boyfriend Aaron to Los Angeles, only to find herself trapped in a life of stagnation and addiction. Following a drug and alcohol-fueled dispute, a devastating car accident leaves Aaron dead and Bebe lost, scarred, and broken.
Now, as a resident in a halfway house called Serenity, Bebe is trying to pull her life together. She is mere hours away from completing her hairdressing training and seems on the verge of fulfilling her dream of giving up the dank hopelessness of Los Angeles for the more promising San Francisco. However, a mentally unstable boyfriend, an unexpected pregnancy, and a surprising visitor from her past sends her on downward spiral that may or may not destroy the new, meager life she has struggled to build.
Pretty is a story about loss and survival. It is about facing one's past head on and coming to terms with one's deep flaws. It is a novel about finding faith in oneself to move on.
Jillian Lauren is the author of the New York Times bestseller Some Girls and has an MFA from Antioch University. She lives in Los Angeles with her son and husband, Weezer bass player, Scott Shriner.
Q. Pretty deals heavily with addiction and Bebe's life in and out of Serenity. How did you go about constructing this book? What sort of research did you do? What drew you to the topic?
I always included details from my own life in my fiction. Though the narrative isn't autobiographical, Pretty is a collage of people I've known, places I've lived and questions I've struggled with.
Addiction is one of the themes of the book from which I drew heavily on personal experience. I've battled addiction issues for much of my life, as have many people I love. I think addiction is a trope that eloquently expresses the compulsive rhythms of contemporary culture. Addiction is also a great vehicle with which to explore the theme of faith. Substance abuse is a monstrous, ruinous thing and it's nearly impossible to overcome without a profound shift of consciousness on the part of the addict. I suppose there are ways other than faith to achieve that shift, but I personally don't know of any.
However, there are aspects of Pretty that required more formal research, such as the worlds of mental illness and religion.
Q. The book is told from Bebe's point of view. How did you go about building a "voice" for Bebe? What was the most challenging part about being in her head?
The voice of a particular work is usually the first thing that comes to me, and that was certainly true for Pretty. I can always tell that I've got a new project brewing when there's a voice in my head clamoring to be heard and that voice isn't mine. Voice is actually the most mysterious part of the writing process for me, because the formulation of it isn't conscious and it's not a function of craft or discipline or any of those other things that come into play later on. When it comes to the voice of a character, I think of myself more as a channel or a conduit and figure my job is just to open up and listen
Q. Los Angeles is framed as an unintended landing place for Bebe. What is your personal experience in L.A. and how much did it inform the writing of this book?
Unlike Bebe, I moved to Los Angeles intentionally. But I never intended to stay. Yet ten years later here I am and a move doesn't seem to be anywhere on the horizon. So I guess Bebe's relationship with Los Angeles and with her whole environment is about my own experience of finding a home in an unexpected place. That theme is so important that Los Angeles turns into almost another character in the book.
Q. There's a fair amount of attention to beauty, "prettiness," or traditional notions of what "pretty" means. Where do you stand on the culturally constructed idea of prettiness in this country? What did you want to say through this novel?
My own relationship with culturally constructed beauty ideals is complex and I wouldn't say that I have a clear-cut ethical stance on the matter. But I do recognize the damage these ideals can do to a woman's concept of self-worth. Pretty is set in the world capital of the over-valuation of physical beauty. Bebe is dealing in with feeling twisted and ugly, so that's set into stark relief by the value system that permeates the culture around her.
At the same time, much of the humor and friendship in the book happens at the beauty college Bebe attends. So while Bebe's struggle with beauty leads her to some very dark places, it also provides a context for the wisdom that eventually becomes her salvation.
Q. What are you working on now?
I'm working on a book about how we construct identity, as explored through the subject of adoption.
- Who is Bebe Baker? Based on what her narration of the story, what impression do you get of her character?
- Bebe reveals early on that her boyfriend Aaron died in a car crash. How would you describe Bebe's role in the events leading up to the accident? How does the accident inform Bebe's character?
- Bebe lives in a halfway house complex called Serenity. What is your impression of her life there? What is her relationship like with the other inhabitants of the house? What role does Susan Schmidt play in the story?
- Throughout the book, Bebe discusses her views on God. What is your impression of Bebe's beliefs? How do her beliefs inform her actions?
- Who is Jake? What is your opinion of his mental condition? What attracts Bebe to him and how would you describe their relationship?
- Bebe mentions the loss of her father several times during the book. How has this loss affected her? What parallels can you draw between Bebe's loss of her father and her loss of Aaron?
- Billy Coyote is Bebe's only real link to her past. Who is Billy Coyote? What's he mean to Bebe? What does his reappearance in Bebe's life mean to her? Do you believe him when he tells Bebe that Aaron treated her badly?
- Bebe's pregnancy comes as a surprise to her. What was her reaction to the news? What is your opinion of her response?
- When she visits Jake in the VA hospital, Bebe gives the Kitty Hawk doll that Milla gave her to one of the patients. Why do you think she does this? Of what significance is the doll to Bebe?
- Addiction plays a powerful role in the lives of the characters in Pretty. What is Bebe's history with addiction? What is she looking for through her addictions? How is her addiction alike or dislike other characters' addictions (Billy Coyote's, for example)?
- In one of the book's final moments, Jake crashes Bebe's graduation party armed with a gun, which Bebe ultimately coaxes away from him. What has Bebe learned at this point in the book? How does she see Jake now? How has Bebe changed?
- By the end of the book, Bebe finally reaches San Francisco. What future do you see for Bebe? What kind of mother will she be? What did reaching San Francisco mean to her?