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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
Cliff Hudder received an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Houston in 1995. He has been an archaeological laborer, a film and video editor, a photographer, air compressor mechanic, electrical lineman, and educator. In addition to articles on regional and American literature, his short stories have appeared in several journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, the Kenyon Review, and the Missouri Review. His work has received the Barthelme and Michener Awards, the Peden Prize, and the Short Story Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His novella, Splinterville, won the 2007 Texas Review Fiction Award, and his novel, Pretty Enough for You, was released by Texas Review Press in July of 2015. He teaches English at Lone Star College-Montgomery in Conroe, Texas, and is presently at work on a PhD in English at Texas A&M University.
Pretty Enough for You: A Novel
Texas Review Press, 978-1-68003-038-9, 344 pgs., $22.95
July 15, 2015
Pretty Enough for You is Cliff Hudder’s rollicking carnival of a debut novel.
Harrison Bent is a self-absorbed, adolescent middle-aged ne’er-do-well immigration attorney in love with a twentysomething paralegal, married to a Filipino au pair who needed citizenship, with a girlfriend-stalker, whose philosophy is go-along-to-get-along. Playing hooky from responsibility, marinating in rum-Vicodin-Xanax cocktails and lying to his therapist, Bent is assigned a new case. “I knew I was not equipped to deal with the Leudecke case. I also knew I wouldn’t turn it down or hand it off to somebody better suited … what background did I have in eminent domain? Or with Mexican drug dealers? Or dead Mexican drug dealers?” Bent’s also deficient in pyromaniacs, witches, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but he gets a crash course.
Hudder exhibits superlative comedic talent. “I had stretched my nineteenth year pretty far. I had stretched it right up to my forty-fifth year, some would say, but now I was forty-eight.” Bent prefers to drink “Cuba Tiránicas (like Cuba Libres but more oppressive).” Dialogue:
[Bent] “What do you know about him?”
“Never heard of him….But I can get you what you want from him, without him knowing.”
“That’s really confusing.”
“If you want to know more, I’ll need something from you. Obviously.”
“Obviously….You want me to buy you another drink?”
I bought him another drink. “Is there something else?”
“Oh, yes. There’s something else.”
I thought about the possibilities. “Money?”
“Of course, money.”
What were expense accounts for? “How much would you like?”
“Exactly. How much?”
“Look, help me out a little here….How much to take me to him?”
“First the word.”
“The word for what you want. Tell me the word, and I’ll take you to Eladio.”
“Who you don’t know.”
“Never heard of him.”
Women exist in relation to Bent’s immediate needs. His exasperating running commentary (flab, hip flab, overwide hips, thick ankles, wrinkles, thinning hair, beefy, pretty enough) made me want to put him in a Speedo and see how he measures up. But I did not dislike him — he manages to be just self-aware enough to avoid complete cretinhood.
He is capable of introspection with a Bent twist. “[L]like on a tour of the Coliseum in Rome, when some American assholes in the group won’t shut up — they insult the ruins, talk loud on their cell phones as the guide attempts to explain how many Christians were slaughtered — and they make you feel you have to apologize to the guide and all of Rome and to a lot of dead Christians, too, and not just for the assholes or their behavior or even for yourself, but for your whole country: maybe your way of life.”
Hudder’s Pretty Enough for You reminds me of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Vineland. Hudder avoids the temptation to rehabilitate Bent while still delivering character development. The ending is unexpectedly affecting and satisfying without being wrapped in a happily-ever-after bow. I hope Mr. Hudder is working on another.
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