Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Regulars by Georgia Clark

I received an ARC of this a while ago but never got around to reading it because the reviews of my friends who had read it were overwhelmingly negative (and many others seem to feel the same, with an average rating of 3.07 at the time that I posted this review). Eventually, curiosity got the better of me. I read the ARC.

THE REGULARS is an odd duck. It's about three 'friends' named Krista, Evie, and Willow, who all hate the way they look and seem to feel that if only they could be as beautiful as the gorgeous New York elite, their lives would be so much better and all their problems would be fixed. Then one day, Krista meets an old friend from one of her improv classes who gives her a tincture that she claims changed her life. It's a lilac-colored serum called "Pretty" that... well, makes people pretty. One drop, one week.

Although skeptical, one after another, they try Pretty. After an explosive intestinal reaction (ugh), it works, and they find themselves all looking like supermodels. Krista, a struggling actress, is immediately presented with a major movie deal. Evie, a copy-editor for a magazine, ends up becoming a features host. And Willow, the socialite who dabbles in art (and incidentally, the prettiest of their group, pre-Pretty) is... pretty.Their looks open doors that were previously closed and people who wouldn't give them the time of day before are suddenly lapping up their attention. But of course, as with all things, there's a cost.

I can definitely see why people didn't like this book. Beauty standards are a thorny issue, involving things like feminism, colorism, and racism, which a lot of people either aren't comfortable talking about or aren't equipped to talk about, and when handled badly the result can be downright offensive even if the intentions were good. Georgia Clark is clearly trying to show that beauty is not a "quick-fix" to one's problems, and that if you're screwed up on the inside your problems will only persist even if you manage to completely change the outside. However, I didn't feel like she went about this in the best way, and some of the messages this book sends are mixed. The biggest problem is how this book handles race: Pretty makes Krista, who is Indian, whiter and shrinks the size of her nose. She also changes the name of her Pretty alter ego to "Lenka Penka," which kind of felt like naming someone who is Asian "Ching Chong." Like something an insensitive 90s movie that didn't know any better might do for cheap laughs. I side-eyed the hell out of that.

Krista/Lenka, Evie/Chloe, and Willow/Caroline are all horribly selfish and incredibly unlikable people. Krista is a flake and a user, and her money problems and superficiality were never resolved to my satisfaction. What she did to Tristan was also pretty awful, and I felt bad that we didn't get much closer about him (and was also kind of shocked that he seemed so quick to forgive her - men are exempt from many of the beauty standards women are held to, except when it comes to weight and the size of their junk, and as a 'heartthrob', what happened to him would seriously affect his career). Evie is also a liar, and the ending of the story annoyed me, because it felt much too neat. What is the moral here? That you need to be lied to in order to understand how much lying hurts? Willow's self-destructive arc was the worst - and I couldn't help but wonder if she fared the worst because she had nothing solid to hold onto, and the author was saying that if you only define yourself by your looks, you'll wind up in an existential crisis that turns into self-harm? Her photo gallery at the end was super creepy and weird, and I found myself disturbed by many of the things she said and did. All of the women in this book have serious self-esteem issues, but Willow's seemed to border on body dysmorphia, and the way she led her boyfriend, Mark, on by honey-trapping him into sleeping with her alter ego and then getting upset at him when he did was just weird. She needed help and didn't get any. None of the women did. It felt like this whole journey with Pretty was some over-blown lesson to teach them to be satisfied with their lot, like some sort of heavy-handed Medieval Morality Play.

I guess the question to ask yourself when looking at a book like this and wondering if you'll enjoy it or hate it is 1) did you enjoy books like SOCIAL CREATURE and SOCIABLE, where the humor wallows in its own sense of misanthropic humor based in the belief that people are fundamentally garbage? and 2) do you not mind reading about books where all of the characters are, in fact, fundamentally garbage, and you will spend most of the book feeling less worried and protective in these characters, and more like you're listening in to someone in a public space having a very loud and self-destructive phone call with a relative while everyone tries to pretend not to listen? If you answered 'yes' to both questions, you will enjoy this book. If you answered 'no,' stay away...

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

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