How far must someone be pushed before resorting to violence? This is the question that hangs over Joanne Proulx’s sophomore novel, a book that ricochets between the brutally violent and endearingly tender.
Michael and Mia, along with their teenage son, Finn, appear to be just an average family. Then bad things happen. Michael embarks on a precipitous descent after a business partner steals his money. Embroiled in a dangerous affair, Finn passes out drunk in a snowbank one night, forever damaging his life. The family, as a unit, disintegrates. Rage and revenge erupt; hearts are broken; the very earth seems to tremble. “Sometimes softness works; sometimes you need a shakeup,” Michael says to himself amid the chaos.
We All Love the Beautiful Girls has the ability to leave a reader breathless. The plot twists are daring. The characters and their dialogue capture the ways in which adversity can alter people. Lovers’ wounds are plastered across every page and the veneer of civility becomes shockingly thin. And yet, in the end, love, decency, and forgiveness triumph. Think of the 1986 David Lynch film, Blue Velvet, in which brutality lurks just beneath the surface of everyday life, then erupts ferociously before disappearing back into the depths. The world of We All Love the Beautiful Girls resembles Lynch minus the surrealism.
Proulx’s novel is architecturally sound, with a few exceptions. Finn’s story is told in the first person and the other characters’ stories are related in the third person. Alternating between the two points of view interrupts the flow of an otherwise dazzling tale. As well, the anonymous third-person narrator sometimes says too much. Michael and Mia’s marriage dissolves, we are told, because “they forgot they loved each other.” As the somewhat shopworn writing school cliché counsels: show us – don’t tell us.