In need of an audiobook, I picked up The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon, a book whose cover I love and that I’ve seen around the blogosphere since its publication in 2011.
About the Book:
On a rainy night in 1968, in rural Pennsylvania, a man and a woman find their way to the home of a widow named Martha. They bring with them a newborn baby girl. One is deaf, the other is developmentally disabled, and they are clearly in love. It doesn’t take long for the staff from the institution to track down the two escapees. Lynnie, the woman, is returned to the “school,” while the man — known as Number 42 to the staff and Buddy to Lynnie — flees into the night. When they are gone, Martha discovers the baby in her attic and makes the decision to honor Lynnie’s two-word request: “Hide her.”
As the lives of these three people race forward through time and space, their stories are woven into The Story of Beautiful Girl.
I’m not quite sure what I thought of The Story of Beautiful Girl. I liked its characters and thought Simon did a nice job imagining voices for each and respectfully bringing them to life. But the further the stories spun, the less I was inclined to go along with them. I could not work out exactly why that was.
It might have been that the entire tale teetered on the brink of unbelievability for me. It was just too much of a stretch. I wanted the characters I came to care about set within a storyline I could buy, to make them even more real. Instead, I constantly felt asked to reach just beyond what I could comfortably accept. Perhaps I need a better imagination.
I think my favorite character was Number 42/Buddy/Homan. I got frustrated with him at points, but I thought he seemed the most human, and I was happiest to watch his journey unfold. He faced some tough obstacles and, I thought, mostly dealt with them in realistic ways. Simon added a note to the end of the story explaining that there really was a Number 42, whose story she reimagined and wove into her novel. I liked that.
Kate Reading was an adequate narrator for this book. I had previously listened to her read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which I thought suited her better. I ended up listening to The Story of Beautiful Girl at double speed, which was partly due to Reading’s narration but also partly because I didn’t find myself quite swept up in the story and wanted to move it along.
Overall, I thought The Story of Beautiful Girl was just okay. I’m happy I listened to it and enjoyed some really nice moments and characters. The whole package, though, didn’t quite work for me.