From Victorian toy theaters to a painting with a mysterious story behind it to a graphic novelist’s battle with the schizophrenia that causes her cartoon characters to march off the page, the novella and six stories in Debra Spark’s 'The Pretty Girl' revolve around artists, artistry, and the magical—sometimes malicious—deceptions they create.
With settings that traverse New York’s Lower East Side, Victorian London, Paris, and Switzerland, Spark’s stories twist and turn in mesmerizing ways as they reflect on the fictions we fabricate about and for friends, family, and strangers; in one story, a woman finds her life unexpectedly dramatized on the stage; in another, a couple’s reconnection with a family friend leads to a labyrinth of mysteries and miscommunications.
Spark’s imagination takes her tales to the most unexpected places. In one story, we meet “a tall man with the thin, awkward movements of an albino flamingo.” In another we encounter a character who works “part-time at the Museum of the Astonishing Mind.”
In the tour-de-force “A Wedding Story,” we come across Simon Baal Shem, a charming five-inch rabbi who offers life advice in the form of Jewish stories. Spark combines such invention with a strong sense of her characters’ everyday lives, their attempts to make sense of relationships, jobs, and their own selves: “Her marriage, Dana sometimes felt, was an argument about the relative merits of what you did in the world versus how you lived in the world.”
Gritty and elusive, Spark’s stories work like the best magic tricks, seeming to defy the laws of reality even as they deftly extend and reinvigorate those laws. Readers who love magical realism, illusions, Jewish literature, and art, will be captivated by Spark’s wonderfully textured 'The Pretty Girl'.
Buy the book: amazon.com/Pretty-Girl-Novella-Stories/dp/1935536184
More info: debraspark.com
Video by Molly Jean Bennett