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The Flawless Skin of Ugly Peopleby Doug Crandell
Synopses & Reviews
Thanks to Ugly Betty, America is finally ready to read a love story about a couple who isn’t sleek, slick, tucked, pulled, or plastic.
Do we have to be beautiful to be loved? Hobbie — this novel's darkly romantic hero — has been banished to homely man exile in the North Georgia Mountains, where his enemies are mirrors and bears. Things are not going well for Hobbie. His skin? Pizza Face, super-sized, with extra pepperoni and pitted olives. Job status? Former bank teller. Love life? His common-law wife Kari has gone AWOL at a weight-loss clinic in North Carolina.
But just as it seems Hobbie is doomed to go through life as a sweet, self-pitying "anonymous joke," he jumps out of his skin and becomes downright heroic.
Can Hobbie rescue Kari from the weight-loss clinic? Can he pull his fractured family together? Plastic surgery — will he or won't he? Will love endure if Hobbie's skin clears up, Kari drops pounds, and ugly people become flawless? Readers won't be able to put the book down until they find out.
"'Hobbie, the narrator of this endearing debut novel, prefers the company of his beloved mutt, Terry, to the companionship of most humans. Hobbie, who has a blistering case of chronic acne, and Kari, his obese girlfriend of 20 years, continually aggravate their situations: Hobbie picks at and further inflames his bad skin while Kari eats in response to a shared tragedy from their youth. When the novel opens, Kari's ensconced at a weight-loss clinic hundreds of miles from their temporary north Georgia home, and Hobbie lives like a hermit until he's attacked by a bear. While recovering, he's sucked into the messy world of Kari's father, Roth, and slowly, clumsily becomes part of Roth's family once Kari goes missing from the clinic. Crandell has an exquisite eye for small details — Kari's letters home are written on 'lined paper, the same kind we wrote love notes on' — that lend a tender feel to what could easily be overwrought. Though the novel turns on some unconvincing plot twists (particularly in the concluding section), the characters and situations are so simultaneously moving and unique that a bit of contrivance doesn't sink this tale of misfit love. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Hobbie and Kari have loved each other since seventh grade. But they are now 38 years old, and what has bound them together for so long is strangling them. Kari writes to Hobbie every day from 'fat-camp,' her weight noted in pencil under a folded flap at the top of each letter. 'We've been hiding out from the world since we met,' she writes. 'We've grown up being scared together. It's got to change.'... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Hobbie, whose face is a pizza of acne, is paralyzed by the humiliation he wears every day. In waiting mode, he clings to the isolated and cramped little world Kari is starting to shed. 'I fear that her new view of the world, lean and disciplined, won't include me.' With this engaging setup, Doug Crandell promises us a good story. He adds other strong characters, too: Roth, Kari's imperfect father and Hobbie's father-substitute; Sally, Roth's ex-wife and Kari's mother, who abandoned her when she was 3; Vietnam vet Donny, Sally's petulant and immature boyfriend; and Terry, the dachshund that Hobbie and Kari love like a child and who is oddly but effectively portrayed as a model of steadfastness. Crandell's interesting people do some interesting things. To cope with her obesity and Hobbie's festering face, Kari devises a life of invisibility. For 20 years they work only as bank tellers, moving from one suburb to another across the country. 'We'll just be another couple that hates their lives,' she tells Hobbie. Then Kari sheds 150 pounds. Their dog is attacked by a black bear, and Hobbie surprises himself with sudden courage. Roth takes Hobbie in, tenderly and wordlessly caring for him as he awaits each letter from Kari. Hobbie picks at his ruptured face to release stress, fear and self-loathing. 'If I could just excavate what's causing the sore,' he says, 'everything would be okay.' But these characters do too much. This zealous writer loads up his short novel as if he's fearful it doesn't have enough plot. As adolescents, Kari and Hobbie were each molested by a church deacon. Roth, a church employee and devotee of all things cheerful, understood the threat but failed to protect them. In the days after the bear attack, Roth has a stroke, losing his speech and mobility and forcing Hobbie to reverse roles and become Roth's protector. Roth has another stroke, and Sally remarries him. Her ex-boyfriend becomes Roth's personal aide. When Kari gets thin and disappears from the clinic, everyone — including helpless Roth — piles into a car and heads off in an endless multi-state pursuit. Hobbie learns Kari had a baby when Roth sent her to her grandmother's for a year after the rape. The baby, now a man, is shot at a convenience store. There is, of course, a happy conclusion to this cramped melodrama. A larger problem for Crandell is his studentlike prose. He describes Hobbie's urgent attack on the bear: 'I whisk the umbrella in a circle over my head like a ninja and let the bear have a hard smack upside the shoulder.' In one of her letters, Kari writes about the rape: 'I thought I'd pass out, but I held on. I didn't want that nasty jackass to get the best of me.' The medic yells as they airlift Roth after his stroke, 'His system is shutting down. We'll have to medevac him to a hospital that has a specialist.' Crandell knows Hobbie intimately and convincingly, as if he himself has lived behind a suppurating face, an outsider trying to hide from us. And there are moments when a theme seems to be gathering focus, something about the courage it takes to change how we see ourselves in the world, or maybe something about the 'ugly people' of the title finding acceptance of their ordinary humanity. Or perhaps Crandell is striving toward something about forgiveness as a necessary path to self-acceptance. But the reader can't be sure because in spite of his quirky and memorable characters, Crandell sabotages his book with a convoluted plot and undeveloped prose." Reviewed by Meredith Hall, whose new memoir is 'Without a Map', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Do people have to be beautiful to be loved? Hobbie--this novel's darkly romantic hero--has been banished to homely man exile in the North Georgia Mountains, where his enemies are mirrors and bears. Things are not going well for Hobbie. His skin is a pizza face, super-sized, with extra pepperoni and pitted olives. Job status? Former bank teller. Love life? His common-law wife Kari has gone AWOL at a weight-loss clinic in North Carolina. But just as it seems Hobbie is doomed to go through life as a sweet, self-pitying anonymous joke, he jumps out of his skin and becomes downright heroic. Can Hobbie rescue Kari from the weight-loss clinic? Can he pull his fractured family together? Plastic surgery--will he or won't he? Will love endure if Hobbie's skin clears up, Kari drops pounds, and ugly people become flawless?
About the Author
Doug Crandell's short stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, including Smithsonian, Atlanta Magazine and Writer's Digest and his two non-fiction books were published by small presses. Flawless Skin, his first novel was a finalist for the William Faulkner Prize. Crandell lives in Marietta, Georgia.
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