There are plenty of ugly childhoods, traumas and bad starts to go around in Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby, a new psychological thriller that comes hard on the heels of the author’s debut novel, The Good Girl, which hit a number of “best” lists in 2014.
This new thriller is narrated from three different viewpoints, and—as the author no doubt intends—it’s sometimes hard to identify where falsehoods end and reality begins. Kubica skillfully depicts the emotionally scarred psyches, moods and internal meanderings of her characters while ratcheting up the tension with each succeeding chapter.
Do-gooder Heidi Wood volunteers at the local soup kitchen, tutors students in ESL and rescues stray animals from city alleyways. But she ups the ante when, without first telling her husband or preteen daughter, she initiates another, more intensive pickup. After discovering a ragged, homeless teen and her baby on a freezing Chicago street, Heidi brings them into her home, where an overnight respite turns into a much longer stay, punctuated by growing suspicions on the part of Heidi’s husband, Chris, as to what baggage young Willow has brought into their home.
As Willow tells her part of the narrative, filled with foster homes and wayward stepfathers, readers also begin to feel uneasy about Heidi’s obsession with the child, as her own hidden and terrible grief surfaces in this intense, addictive psychological thriller.
Intermingling with the stories spun by Willow and Heidi, readers hear from Chris, a workaholic who has plowed ahead with his life and career without considering what his wife has been going through. And after all, there’s his sexy, emotionally unencumbered office assistant offering an attractive sideline, should he choose to take it. He says: “Heidi and I rarely hold hands. We’re like the wheels of a car: in sync but also independent.” This may be admirable, but here it’s also a definite clue to how easily things can go wrong when you don’t pay attention. As household aggravations escalate and suspicions about Willow’s past take shape, Chris is finally galvanized to action, as events in Heidi’s life begin to spin out of control. But is there time to avoid a family disaster?
The story uncoils chapter after chapter in this unpredictable story, where readers are kept in suspense until the last page—and perhaps beyond.