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Natural Beauty: A Novel
by Ling Ling Huang
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fiction - kind of a trippy horror novel starring a (Chinese-American?) young woman and an upscale beauty product store that engages in secret genetic experiments on its staff. Not usually the type of book I would pick up, but I enjoyed it, and appreciated the Asian representation/Asian author. More please! ( )
This wasn't darkly comedic as advertised. This reminded me of other dystopian novels but in a good way. The book felt long. The author was good at making her point, and then she kept making it, and the little plot points seemed oddly placed. The choice to not have the protagonist referred to by name was a fascinating one. When she picked out her Americanized name, I was kinda grossed out that she even had to because her coworkers couldn't bother pronouncing her name. The author did a wonderful job of making the protagonist relatable. I wish things had turned out differently for her, but if they had, there would be no story. Or it would be a duller story. The book was alternately sad and unsettling, and definitely gross at parts. The body horror at the end seemed ridiculous, as was how she escaped the compound and the use of the giant mirrors. Seriously? It yanked me right out of the story I'd been enjoying. The world-building was shaky at times, and its inconsistency grew annoying. Some interactions characters had with one another had me rolling my eyes and impatient to finish the book. The ending chapter was where the author rushed to tie up each and every little subplot and tiny reference to anything dark, ever, that had appeared in the book previously. "SEE? It's ALL CONNECTED to THEM being obsessed with HER. Remember THIS GUY? He was involved TOO." I did not care for this. The pacing was poor from the start. I didn't consider anything an attempt at foreshadowing really. The metaphors were kind of mixed. I read this, understanding that I was likely missing a lot of symbolism. There were powerful moments in here in regards to feeling caught between two words. I appreciated those moments. I might check out other works of the author.
This is an absolutely wild horror/thriller sendup of the beauty industry and the personal needs and scarcities that feed it. Not sure I can say anything useful because—as you might expect—there's a fair amount of body horror here and that really isn't my jam. I've gotten more squeamish in my old age, I guess.
"In this sly, surprising, and razor-sharp debut novel, a virtuoso pianist gives up her future as a musician to work at a high-end wellness store in New York City where the pursuit of beauty comes at a staggering cost. Our narrator is the youngest student at the Conservatory. She produces a sound from the piano no one else does, employing a special technique she learned from her parents-also stunningly talented musicians-who fled China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. But when an accident leaves her parents debilitated, she abandons her future as a pianist and accepts a job at a high-end beauty and wellness store in New York City. Holistik is known for its remarkable products and outrageous procedures: remoras that suck cheap Botox from the body, eyelash extensions made of spider silk, emotional support ducklings bred to imprint on their owners. Every product is ethically sourced and made with nothing but the highest quality ingredients. Our narrator's new job is a coveted one among New York's beauty-obsessed, and it affords her entry into a new world of privilege. She becomes transfixed by Helen-a model, and the niece of Holistik's charismatic owner-and the two strike up a close friendship that hazily veers into more. All the while, Holistik plies our narrator with products that slim her thighs, smooth her skin, lighten her hair, and change her eye color. But beneath these fancy creams and tinctures lies a terrible truth that threatens to consume her. After all, beauty is nothing without ugliness. NATURAL BEAUTY is a piercing, terrifying, and darkly funny debut that eviscerates the beauty and wellness industry, exploring questions of consumerism, self-worth, race, and identity. This propulsive novel takes a world that feels familiar and pushes it to a conclusion that at first might seem jarring, but when we inch closer, settles on us as truth"--
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6000Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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