Think on ink — “Ugly Girls”
Caelin Miltko | Tuesday, December 2, 2014
In Lindsay Hunter’s novel, “Ugly Girls,” we follow the story of high schoolers Perry and Dayna; however, after Dayna’s brother is involved in a near-fatal accident, she shaves half of her head and insists on going by “Baby Girl.” The girls spend their time skipping school, staying up all night, stealing cars and driving around. They are as different as could be — Baby Girl works to make herself as much of an outcast as possible, making herself “ugly” before others can tell her she is, while Perry strives to fit in, using her beauty to find love and acceptance.
At the beginning of the novel, both girls are engaged in a quasi-relationship with a suspicious Internet boy who goes by Jamey. Perry, whose options for real-life relationships are more exciting, is somewhat turned off by her conversations with him, but Baby Girl is flattered by the attention.
Punctuating the girls’ storyline are the underlying issues of Perry’s mother and stepfather. Her mother is a struggling alcoholic who is constantly trying to reach the happiness she had prior to her teenage pregnancy, while her stepfather works nights at a prison and struggles with maintaining his human decency in such a position of power.
My favorite part of this novel is the way Hunter uses fragmentary images and language to tell this story. Each chapter is short, only a couple pages long at most. She skips quickly from one perspective to another and builds the storyline in this way. It takes a little bit of deciphering, but is worth it in the end.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Hunter makes is attempting to work in the point of view of too many characters in too short of a space. The book is only 235 pages long, yet we get five different characters telling their side of each story, fragmenting the plot line and leaving much of their issues unresolved. The end never makes it clear where any of these storylines end up (with the exception, perhaps, of Jamey’s). Then again, perhaps this is the entire point of Hunter’s narrative.
Hunter’s central question seems to come from Perry’s stepfather Jim’s perspective. He seeks to understand how people deal with the everyday struggles of being alive. At one point, he reflects on how both his wife and his stepdaughter try to deal with their lives and examines (somewhat negatively) their coping mechanisms.
It is Baby Girl’s plight that seems to be the greatest. There is some implication that prior to her brother’s accident she was fairly bright, with some ambition to make something out of her life. But after her brother, who was involved in illicit activity and had a tough exterior that Baby Girl always admired, becomes mentally unstable, Baby Girl makes a complete reversal. She attempts to take over Charles’s role, making up a “thug” persona and trying to appear tougher than she is. It is only by the end of the novel that she realizes that whatever Charles did in his spare time before the accident was more complicated and well-meaning than what she previously thought.
“Ugly Girls” examines the idea of “ugly” and how it works itself inside of all our lives. Hunter never works out how to solve the mess her characters create, but that appears to be part of the beauty of it all — that there is no solution.