Title: Pretty Ugly
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Length: 53 pages, 16k words
Publisher: JCP Books
Genre: M/M, contemporary
Blurb: Just because Dominic Mann personally lacks beauty doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate it. His keen eye has made him one of the most celebrated and sought-after photographers in Nashville.
The grand re-opening of the Cypress Mansion is an event for Nashville’s truly elite, and Dominic is the official photographer of the evening. Not that he’d need that excuse to introduce himself to up-and-coming singer Johnny Palomino and grab a few shots…but it doesn’t hurt.
Dominic hopes to take his flirtation with Johnny to the next level at the Cypress Mansion tea, where they’ve arranged to meet. But what greets Dominic in the mirror the next morning is such a shock, he’s almost late for the party.
No one at Cypress Mansion is acting like they notice anything different. Or do they?
Review: This was another delight from Jordan Castillo Price in the series. For me, it had less of the tension and shock effect of others of her shorts, but the treat in this one was the feeling of emotional reveal, of both characters and storyline.
The strapline for JCP Books is “Beautiful, Mysterious, Bizarre’, and Pretty Ugly pretty much met all those for me! The gradual introduction of Dominic and the fascinating cast at the Cypress Mansion meant it was a while before I realised why he was there, let alone how he looked, by which time I’d already invested happily in him. The story takes him from his position of famous photographer to the stars of entertainment and society, to a man brought to task for his complacent acceptance of life, assuming too much about himself and how he’s viewed by others. The results astonish and delight both him and the reader.
The theme was, as I often find in this series, a modern morality tale. Initially Dominic’s viewpoint came across as if viewed through his camera. Then gradually, he was drawn out to connect at a more visceral, vulnerable level with people at first hand. JCP’s characters are never emotionally black or white, not totally likeable or hateful, just fascinatingly real and a very rewarding read.
The style was trademark JCP – lush prose, an obvious love and careful use of vocabulary and grammar, evocative scene-setting. For me, it’s portraiture in words. The sense of place was vivid, the atmosphere, the scenery – even the Southern cadence of the characters’ dialogue. I felt the heat and humidity in Nashville, a seductive sensuality and disorientation that created the perfect backdrop for the changes in Dominic. The dialogue is crisp and witty, the characters well defined. The prose can be spare, occasionally I had to go back and re-read some sentences to catch the nuances.
Secondary characters were sharply drawn – I loved the charmingly ascerbic Mimi, the chancer Johnny and the shrewd, more mature Butch – yet the focus remained satisfyingly on Dominic. I really enjoyed Chance’s role in this story, blending his (in)famous chocolate with sensuality and glamour. His interaction with Dominic makes the photographer re-evaluate success and beauty, both real and in his work. It seems Chance prompts Dominic to reconsider when to brood and when to move on. It’s a shock to us when Dominic can’t find pictures of himself, as if he exists on the periphery of the world he photographs, kept outside by his opinions of his own worth. His connection with Butch is a stark and exciting contrast for him.
The ending was masterful and delightful: not a shock, but a clever, poignant twist, reinforcing my sympathy for Dominic and what he’d experienced. It stresses the nature of beauty as a package rather than an ideal, an emotional impact rather than a two-dimensional picture. The story was full of sensuality, wit and sexiness, with an enchanting theme and I rate it A.
by pettyprose…my opinion alone.