Allison Penny considers herself unfortunate because she’s overweight and her features don’t fall into the realm of what society deems attractive. She works as a cleaning lady with an ethnic family. Lucky for her, her only duty is emptying the garbage cans. Not a dream job but it pays the bills. “Destitute, depressed, and almost universally derided,” is how she describes herself. The only positive thing Allison can say is she has a beautiful voice. Her only real wishes are to meet her biological parents and to find a way to get rid of her sex starved, vindictive roommate, Virginie.
The one person in her life who is compassionate toward her is Nathan. They work in the same building and meet during breaks to discuss movies, plants and other people who work in the building. They aren’t companions or even friends but she has attached her affection to him. He’s nothing special, balding and a bit scrawny but he’s nice to her. He’s her Brad Pitt.
One morning she wakes up and her body has been transformed by we don’t know what and we never find out. She’s now taller, slimmer, blonder…well more like Gwyneth Paltrow with bigger breasts. She seems only mildly shocked by this transformation and after a brief stint of enjoying the feel of her new body she decides she has to show it off immediately in case it disappears at midnight. Her first manner of business was to seduce a construction worker in broad daylight even after he confessed he’d only been married six months and had a baby on the way. I found this hard to swallow as her first desire in her new body.
While enjoying the new life (because of new body) she decides to get back at or ruin all the people in her life who’ve been mean to her. The “ugly acts” range from minor to serious. Her character definitely isn’t likeable in her new form at least not from a reader’s perspective. She’s suddenly the center of attention wherever she goes. Something she never experienced as the old Allison. She becomes drunk on the affection and attention. Allison isn’t so beautiful on the inside anymore.
Through Elyse Friedman’s writing it’s easy to hate this character yet root for her when she gets back at everyone (at least until she goes way over board) who was nasty to her for being plump and homely. Most of the other characters are easy to hate too. They’re nasty people.
This is not my first contact with this author. I also read her poetry book Know Your Monkey which I loved. Regretfully, in the end, Waking Beauty didn’t win me over. There is a lack of balance amongst characters. It would have been nice to get to know some nicer people. It may have made this read less dark. In the end, the reader is still left asking why did this happen to this particular girl and how?
Its message doesn’t bode well for the happiness of women in a society whose media determines the beauty of a woman and comes across as a ‘what if’ story about an unattractive girl written by an attractive one.
Originally published 1/11/2005 at Large & Lovely, BellaOnline.