By Max Mason
“Everyone thought we were dead” is the first sentence of Maggie Mitchell’s first novel Pretty Is, which she read from in the crowded First Lecture Hall on the fourth floor of the Inman Center on Wednesday, March 15. Her reading was the first event in Belmont’s Deep Song Reading Series this semester.
The evening began with an introduction by Dr. Susan Finch, who said that she read the book during the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Dr. Finch’s time was precious, but she realized “that’s what I wanted to do with Maggie’s novel.”
The story’s narrative alternates between the two main characters Lois and Carly May, who are abducted at age twelve by a man who drives them across the country and keeps them in his cabin in the woods in upstate New York. The story follows the lives of the two women and is centered on their relationship during and after their abduction. As adults, Lois becomes an English professor and Carly May becomes an actress. Lois writes a novel based on the abduction, and Mitchell includes excerpts of it in her novel to further the story.
The New York Times called her novel “A stunning, multilayered debut.” During the Q&A session, Mitchell shared that she had to make a chart of all of the character’s names because Carly May changes her name to Chloe when she is an adult; there are completely different names for the characters in Lois’s novel; and there is even a movie made based on Lois’s novel starring two young actresses who are referred to by their own names. But it is also multilayered because it delves deep inside the vulnerable psyches of these women, since the movie based on Lois’s novel forces these women confront each other and their dark history.