Was She Pretty?

 
 
 

Was she pretty?
Hardcover: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006;
Paperback: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016
208 pages

Leanne Shapton weaves together a voyeuristic tale of love and life through epigrammatic vignettes and sleek line drawings. Entire relationships are encapsulated in a few, stingingly perfect lines: "Colleen was Walter's ex-girlfriend from med school. She loved to dance with men at weddings." Pricking our insecurities, Shapton introduces us to Kim, whose ex 'kept a drawerful of love letters in a kitchen drawer... She would stare at it while she cooked.' And Ben's ex, 'a physiotherapist for the U.S. men's and women's Olympic swim teams. She wore small white shorts year-round.' She invites us to peer into the hearts and minds of her characters — while reminding us that we shouldn't be surprised if we see ourselves staring right back.


"Deceptively complex and uncommonly elegant, Was She Pretty? is a series of gorgeous line drawings, most of men and women... Together, these brief encounters with the other tell a story about the difficulty of accepting that those we love have loved before―and of recognizing the ugly truth that they may love again."
- Washington Post

"Shapton's debut reads like a graphic-novel-cum-children's-book: each spread includes one or more scratchy, b&w line drawings plus short, facing-page, poetryesque texts. Its content, though, leans much more toward Sex In the City than Shel Silverstein, exploring conflicting feelings aroused in women by their boyfriends' ex-lovers. It's narrated (and drawn) by a sharp but weary onlooker who is very intimate with all the principles, who seem to form a loose circle of friends. A picture depicting 'one of the women Len used to know' shows a dour, hot, tight-sweater-wearing woman who is summed-up with deadpan wit: in one sentence, she's 'an opinionated academic,' in the next, it's revealed, with barely concealed jealousy, that 'She wore braces and they looked fantastic.' Shapton also captures a complex brew of nostalgia, lingering attachment, relief, rage and intoxication harbored by the men: they keep letters, hairclips, phone numbers, and are occasionally also honest with themselves. In a serial description of Margaret's adventures reading her boyfriend Scott's journals, which detail his past relationships, 'Scott described seeing Diane on the subway with another man, and feeling jealous, but sorry for the man.' Diane looks very mean, and the book is pitch perfect from start to finish." - Publishers Weekly