Turns out, though, that I really liked this. When I was a teen and up until a few months ago, I really shied away from 'issues books,' because they're depressing and who needs that from your escapist reads, right? Plus, I'm pretty sure I assumed they were all like Lurlene McDaniel or something, disgustingly sappy and unrealistic. After reading a couple though, I realized that I actually LOVE the incredibly heartrending contemps that make all of the people with souls cry, though I generally don't.
Ordinary Beauty is almost unrelentingly depressing. The overall tone is one of despair and desperation. Sayre Bellavia has had an awful, awful life, all because of the influence of her drug addict mother. Ordinary Beauty focuses on that relationship. Some other things happen and some other characters do matter, but what it really comes down to is Sayre and her mother.
Impregnated at 15, already a party girl and maker of bad decisions, Sayre's mother decided to have her baby, I think mostly because she only realized she was pregnant when it was too late to do anything about it. The news of Sayre's impending birth caused the grandfather to keel over for one reason or another, throwing the pampered daughter into a spiral and serious drug abuse from which she never recovered. The mother always resents Sayre for destroying her life, never shows any motherly tenderness, which Sayre can never stop craving. I wanted so badly to shake her and get her to freaking leave and go ANYWHERE.
Luckily, Sayre spent the first seven years of her life in a fairly stable environment, living with her grandmother and not her mom. This gave her a fairly normal outlook, and perhaps spared her from some of the worst emotional scars. However, most of the rest of her life has been a succession of dirty houses, abuse (mostly verbal) and neglect.
The story alternates between numbered chapters, the present timeline, in which Sayre's mother is dying from, well, basically her life, and titled chapters that are her reflections on the past inspired by the mom's impending death. Because it's not linear, we know that, even when times get better, that even worse things are ahead for Sayre, so there's some major dramatic irony going on. Also, even though I essentially knew what was coming, I really didn't guess how it would happen.
The whole group had some issues with the book, each of us struggling with Sayre's normalcy and with some of the situations in the book. One that we all doubted was that Sayre's mom would go to the hospital and receive Oxycontin, even though she'd been sent to rehab in the past for drug abuse. Even though I did look askance at a number of things like that, they didn't really subtract from the reading experience too much, because I got so caught up in Sayre's story.
The ending, though. The ending just felt so rushed and out of left field. The rest of the book was so sad and then all of a sudden there's a happy ending? What? Plus, there are some sort of dropped plot lines and some skipped time and it's just really unclear. Sayre just magically gets over everything so fast and this, I felt, was the most unrealistic part of the book, little inconsistencies aside. Much as I want Sayre to have a happy ending, it should not have been so idyllic, so untempered by her painful past.
Overall, I still really, really liked this, and now want to read all of Wiess's other books. I think everyone in the book club liked it, though most of them sobbed and don't want to read another sad book for like a year. I, however, want more of them.