There is something – well, in fact a lot – to be said for the writing experience one gains as a journalist. It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours,on steroids, because you not only learn to write about subjects, but people as well.
This background is evident in listening to Janelle Brown’s immersive novel, Pretty Things. I’m pretty sure I’d feel the same way if I were reading her book. She sees the scenes, the people, and as she tells us of what she sees, we see, too. I do not believe this is an everyday kind of talent, because I don’t see it pop like this very often. And when a story lingers in my memory, as Pretty Things has done these past few months, it is proof positive.
In the same or similar way that some novels make a good story on film, some make a good listen as an audiobook. (But not all.) Nina grabs interest from the first words in Pretty Things, and the author draws us into her life–and that of her mother and her boyfriend–quickly and vitally. I was fascinated to learn what lengths people will go to, how far greed will drive them, in the search to have more pretty materialism and affluence in their lives.
Brown takes us deeper into this mystery of the modern American lifestyle when we meet Vanessa and her family. Brown literally rips the facade off the social-media influencer, yet we end up suffering with, and for, Vanessa as she comes to terms with what she has done with her life.
Often, an author does a less than satisfying job of gathering the various story threads into a satisfying conclusion. I’m happy to say this is not the case in Brown’s novel.
The voiceover work by Julia Whelan and cast really brings the characters to life. I felt I was right there beside them as the plot unfolded, upset when they were, nervous when they were pulling off their misdeeds, empathetic about their problems and shortcomings. And in the end they got just what was coming, and that was satisfying as well. (By the way, at 16 hours, this is a nice, long listen.)
This is Janelle Brown’s fourth novel. I went on to read her first, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, a blunt critique of the upper middle-class. I see in her a keen-edged observer of contemporary American life in both of these works. I would place her as a contemporary thriller novelist right beside Gillian Flynn (also with a journalism background) of Gone Girl fame. I’m ready to experience, either in print or audio, the two works in between.