Bill Selnes, of the popular Mysteries and More blogsite, does something quite unique. Some of his reviews are posted in the form of a letter, which is what he did for Going to Beautiful. If the author is willing, he also posts their response to the letter. I love the whole letter-writing thing. It feels almost nostalgic, from a simpler, genteel time.
Please note: there are a few small spoilers within the body of Bill’s review, but not to worry.
(1) if you prefer to be spoiler-free, the version of the review below is spoiler-free
(2) if spoilers don’t bother you, please visit the Mysteries and More blog site for the full review, my requested letter-form response, some wonderful follow up comments by the likes of reviewer extraordinaire Margot Kinberg and incomparable author, Alan Bradley, not to mention many, many more excellent reviews by Bill Selnes,
Spoiler free version:
I worked my way through the opening pages of Going To Beautiful where big egos and big successes have put Jake Hardy and Eddie Kravets atop the food and fashion worlds of the Centre of the Universe – Toronto.
I found it interesting how each had benefited from the 21st Century’s celebrity making machinery of reality television. Eddie won the first season of a show featuring a group of designers meeting “increasingly bizarre design challenges”. Jake reached the heights through successful personal journey cookbooks and “a cable cooking show – Jake Hardy Does TV Cooking”. What will the historians of a generation into the future make of our passion for “reality” television?
I admired Jake and Eddie, happily married for 30 years with a thriving son, Connor. Jake knows they have a “magic world”.
But it was when Jake and his 78 years young transgender friend, Sebastienne “Baz” Venkata Santhosh Kumar Sengupta flew from Toronto to Saskatoon that the book came alive for me.
In your earlier books characters headed out from Saskatchewan. It was so clever of you to have Jake and Baz see Saskatchewan through Toronto eyes.
Having them come in mid-January truly introduced them to our winter weather and the vastness of our province. They arrived on a nice sunny -20C morning. By mid-afternoon they are in a blizzard. The hospitality to the storm-stayed visitors from the East is a tradition I have always valued in Saskatchewan. The next morning they experience the crystalline winter magic of countryside Saskatchewan.
This is the book I longed for you to write when Russell Quant was carrying on in the big city of Saskatoon and then roaming the world with but quick visits to the family farm. I knew you had a great story to tell set in the farms and small towns of rural Saskatchewan. You capture the landscapes, the people, the communities, the quirks, the moods – the very spirit – of the Saskatchewan in which I have spent my life.
The Ukrainian Saskatchewanian accents of Beautiful residents were perfect.
The joy of potluck meals is infectious. In our Cathrolic parish in Melfort the ladies also gather with joy to assemble and set out the food.
I could see your mother in Shirley presiding over a seemingly chaotic kitchen of helpers readying a huge meal of Ukrainian dishes.
If Jake thought a Ukrainian “stiff one” was 2 ounces of rye whiskey and Coke he was severely underestimating the pour unless his hosts had refilled the rye bottle with some homebrewed liquor. My experiences from Ukrainian weddings are that the punch is the most potent drink in the hall.
The confusion over a snowmobile poker rally was hilarious.
The Convent on the hill reminded me of the Ursuline Convent at Bruno which hosted a boarding school attended by my wife, Sharon, and my sister, Ann Marie, 50 years ago. I expect the Convent at Prudhomme was actually your inspiration.
I enjoyed the vignettes of real life Saskatoon but loved Beautiful.
I wondered if there actually was a place named Beautiful in Saskatchewan. We have so many memorable names. Love is a short drive north of Melfort. Floral is a few miles from the fictional Beautiful. I was not able to find a Beautiful in Saskatchewan.
At the same time you recognized the fragility and decline of most small towns in Sasktachewan.
The closing of the grocery store in Beautiful when it’s 92 year old owner fell ill reminded me of the closing in 2015 of Prytula’s General Store in Tway after 100 years when its 87 year old owner, Victor, died. It was an amazing store and Victor loved to talk about the store and his life.
As with the characters of Go To Beautiful, middle aged to elderly, you and I have lived through the fading of the lifestyle in which we grew up. I have regrets that the small town Saskatchewan of my youth and early adult years could not endure but recognize there is still lots of life in the countryside. There is a new generation of immigrants choosing rural Saskatchewan. The neighbours on each side of my home in Melfort are Filipino. My doctor is from South Africa. The lovely young woman who helps with our house is from the Ukraine. I am confident, as I think you are, that these newcomers to Saskatchewan will also have good memories of life in the country.
I did not need the mystery element to enjoy Going To Beautiful. The interactions of Jake and Baz with the good folk of Beautiful drove the story. I was reminded of the series of books written by Lillian Beckwith based on the time she spent during the 1950’s living on a farm in the Outer Hebrides Islands of Scotland. (A link to my review of The Hills is Lonely is below.) I wish publishers could accept the beauty of a book that does not fit a standardized category.
The last book of fiction set in rural Saskatchewan that moved me as much as Going to Beautiful was Cool Water by Dianne Warren. My review of that book (a link is below) was also in the form of a letter. It was written to the young man who gave me the book.
The actual ending of Going to Beautiful was perfect.
In your cover letter forwarding the Advance Reader Copy you spoke of this book as “a very personal novel, with bits and pieces of me spread throughout”. I found the little touches from your life made the story more vivid.
I am so glad to have read Going to Beautiful.
I do not know where your writing career will take you but I consider Going to Beautiful your masterpiece.
All the best.