Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

When a plane full of teen beauty queens crashlands on a tropical island, all manner of over-the-top melodrama breaks out. It's Miss Congenialty meets Lord of the Flies, with the satiric sensibilities of Soviet-era satirist Vladimir Voinovich thrown in!

Plot? Well, who can explain a plot that combines beauty contests, reality TV, mad evil geniuses, and Elvis-impersonating half-pint dictators (with uncanny resemblances to half-pint North Koreans)? Yes, there's exploding exfoliating cream, pirates, psychotropic flowers, giant snakes, meal trays embedded in heads, and quicksand. And never mind that saving the world requires mastery of PowerPoint!

In the end, this satire is absolutely brilliant! It skewers just about everything that deserves it (tellingly, teens seem to either love it or hate it!). Its complete irreverence and irrelevance is what reminds me so strongly of Voinovich (and his Ivankiad and Private Chonkin books). Like the great Russian master, the story is really secondary and exists merely to make much deeper points about the nature of the society in which we live. The only way to survive a book like this is to immerse yourself in Bray's crazy world and enjoy the absurdity. I laughed, I cried, and I recognized the truth in every word of this bitter and wonderful novel. Bravo!

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