A Memoir

Non-Fiction - Memoir
232 Pages
Reviewed on 12/14/2019
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Author Biography

Author bio:

KAREN VORBECK WILLIAMS is the author of My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton, a historical novel that placed first in general fiction in the 2012 New England Book Festival and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Her second novel The House on Seventh Street, a mystery, is an International Book Awards finalist, and recommended by the U.S. Review of Books. She is an amateur photographer and Master Gardener living in Rumford, Rhode Island.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Pretty: A Memoir by Karen Vorbeck Williams takes us back to middle America in the 1950s when the author was growing up in the small town of Grand Junction, Colorado, seemingly in the perfect '50s family. Williams, however, knew that beneath the smiling perfection things were not really as they seemed. By the time her mother decided to divorce her father (an unusual event in the ’50s) and take the three daughters far away to Ojai, California, the author was struggling with identifying who she was, what she wanted from life and how to get there. Young girls were supposedly good for only one thing – snaring a successful and preferably wealthy husband. Even those girls who attended college back then seemed to have, as their primary motivation, to meet a future husband among the college-going crowd. Karen was dogged by the desire to be an actress or a performer of some sort. It was her passion and her joy, yet she was dogged by self-doubts and criticisms that she had endured her whole young life – was she really as pretty as everyone said? Was she really too overweight for a career in showbusiness? Did she have what it took to be a star?

In Pretty: A Memoir, author Karen Vorbeck Williams is candid and frank about what it was like to grow up in 1950s small-town America. I loved the realness of the emotions, doubt, and angst that came clearly through every page. The author did a fantastic job of describing the state of mind of a young woman who came from a background of two vastly different parents, whose influences on her clashed at every level. Her mother, so free and independent for a woman of the time, instilled something special within her daughter’s psyche and yet her father’s slow, deliberate, some would say boring approach to life clearly tempered Karen’s enthusiasm and commitment to chasing her dreams. This is a well-written and easy to read memoir of just a small part of Williams’ life but such a vital part of it that formed her character for the rest of her years. My biggest take from this story is that when we put labels on children, whether the labels are positive or negative, we have a profound effect on the way that child thinks about themselves. For Williams, the label that defined her in so many ways was “pretty” and it came to influence her decisions and her beliefs about herself in all aspects of her life, not all of them useful or positive. This is an excellent read and one I can highly recommend.

K.C. Finn

Pretty is a work of non-fiction written in the format of a memoir, and was penned by author Karen Vorbeck Williams. Written for adults due to the content which, though mild in its expression, does cover some of the much darker sides of the realities of growing up through the 1950s, this is a heartfelt tale that will make some relate whilst educating others. The life of the titular pretty girl Karen seemed to be made of ideals. She looked just right to fit into the mold of the perfect housewife that was laid out for her, but Karen desired more. The memoir tells the tale of her pursuit of Hollywood, which was not without its molds and expectations either.

Author Karen Vorbeck Williams glances back into her own past with an intelligent clarity that is refreshing to read amid the current climate of feminist movements and modern views on the old ways of doing. The narration is strong but also emotionally open, inviting other readers to come into Karen’s world with lifelike depictions of the realities of living in a society where men’s views were still dominant and a woman’s place in society was firmly formed from the moment she was born. The details are crisp and well-remembered with excellent chronology but also a sense of what makes a narrative work, keeping audiences captivated from beginning to end. Overall, I would certainly recommend Pretty as a read for women who remember the era and its pressures, but also for those who wish to learn the true struggles and triumphs of women of the recent past.

Tracy Young

Karen did not have traditional parents. Her father worked hard and drank even harder while her mother believed that being well-read and practicing yoga was more important than domestic skills. Karen was surrounded by pressure to be a good girl and marry well. Her future seemed to consist of becoming a perfect housewife and raising a family. Pretty: A Memoir by Karen Vorbeck Williams is the story of her struggle to conform while dreaming of a different life altogether. When her mother broke free of Grand Junction and her husband, she transported herself and her daughters to California. Karen missed her old boyfriend but quickly realized that her life had changed irrevocably. Her determination to become an actress would battle with her dreams of meeting her soulmate and marrying. Her journey is one filled with joy and angst as Karen finds out that being pretty can be both a help and a hindrance to her aspirations.

Pretty: A Memoir is a great read. Karen Vorbeck Williams captures perfectly the moral and judgmental attitude toward women that prevailed in the 1950s. Pretty is a testament to how the world has changed its attitude toward women and how they are judged on their looks. I loved reading about the classes Karen took in college, especially the one that taught her how to smoke correctly. I found her parents fascinating and enjoyed reading about how their characters developed in later life. I was gripped to the last page as to how Karen's life would evolve. Would she find that happiness she sought in marriage or would the stage call her back to the world of acting? You too will love every moment of this uplifting story. Beautifully written and filled with personality. Thank you for allowing us this glimpse into your life, Karen.