Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pretty Dead, by Francesca Lia Block

Pretty Dead was my first Francesca Lia Block, and I was completely blown away by the way she writes. The beautiful words are what make this book worth reading. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Block could write about grass growing and I would be entranced.


Luckily for us, Block chose not to write about her front lawn and instead focused her attentions on the unceasingly popular theme of vampires. Charlotte Emerson is a vampire who lives in modern day Los Angeles. Like most vampires in teen literature, she’s anguished. She chose to become a vampire after the death of her twin brother, Charles, and she’s since realized that this was a mistake. She broke it off long ago with her maker and lover, William, but he’s returned to haunt her. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s friend Emily has died in an apparent suicide and Charlotte is growing ever closer to Emily’s boyfriend, Jared. To top it all off, Charlotte has begun to realize that her perfectly immortal body is going through some very mortal changes.

Many of the people whose reviews I have read of Pretty Dead seem to be disappointed with the book. Much of the criticism I’ve read stems from the fact that Pretty Dead is about vampires, and vampires are just oh so in with the teens nowadays. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know this is true, but what drew me to the book was the twist Block put on the traditional vampire myth – Charlotte the vampire is slowly becoming human. The story explores why and how this might be happening. Beyond that, Pretty Dead also explores the intense loneliness and isolation that accompanies immortality. Charlotte’s life is initially glamorous, especially to her human friends Emily and Jared, but Block forces us to see that such an eternal life is far from desirable. This is very different from the vampire books out there that romanticize the immortal life (while simultaneously pretending to demonize it).

Kelly also pointed out to me that the book seems pretty anti-feminist, with Charlotte’s motivations stemming mostly from a desire to please the men in her life. I can see where people might make this argument, since much of what Charlotte does is determined by her feelings for her brother or her ex-lover, but I think the addition of Emily provides a more complex female relationship that also significantly influences Charlotte’s actions. Long after I finished the book and had figured out Charlotte’s relationships with the men, I was left pondering the meaning behind her relationship with Emily.

Pretty Dead was a great introduction to Francesca Lia Block. It’s a short novel on a popular theme and has given me a taste of the wondrous things Block can do with words. I really cannot say enough about Block’s talent with the English language. In my dreams where I am a published author, I write with the beauty, power, and intensity of Francesca Lia Block. I will definitely be picking up her other books.

One last note: I really really dislike the cover. Aside from the fact that it seems like a blatant ripoff of the True Blood poster, it does not evoke the mood that Block’s words do. The cover makes the story seem salacious, soapy, gossipy. Perhaps this is a good thing for teens who are already hooked on anything vampire, but for those readers looking for something different from the usual vampire story, the cover is not going to make them pick this one up. That’s too bad, because the prose is just so, so achingly beautiful.

3 comments:

  1. Absolute agree with you on the cover part. I picked it up thinking "Gossip Girl" with vampires, and got something else entirely.

    Now, I liked the something else, of course, but I could teens being upset over the misrepresentation.

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  2. I didn't think about Emily's role as much as you did. I guess my real surprise came from knowing how much of a feminist FLB is and what love my hard core feminist friends have for her....so this sort of backpedaling on that with Charlotte surprised me.

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  3. I'm totally with you: I would totally read about Francesca Lia Block's lawn. The only Block I've read was The Rose and the Beast, and I totally fell in love with it. I'm definitely going to check Pretty Dead out, although I agree that the cover is atrocious.

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