Dr. Margaret Mitchell, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the University of West Georgia English Department, officially became a published novelist on July 7th when “Pretty Is” was released. Under the name Maggie Mitchell, her first book already has people talking.
“[The publishing process] has been a whirlwind,” said Mitchell. “The novel is being published in the UK at about the same time it appears here; Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Romania have also bought rights. I am grateful and anxious and hopelessly excited. It’s strangely thrilling just to imagine so many strangers, both here and abroad, reading my words, getting involved with my characters, becoming caught up in the story.”
The story focuses around two women, Lois Lonsdale and Carly May, who were abducted together at age 12, and shows how they cope with their experience years after they returned home. As I started reading, I admired how Mitchell drew from her experience as an English professor and writer to shape the character of Lois. An attractive, shy woman with tons of ambition yet afraid to expose herself too much to the burn of the limelight, she writes under a pseudonym in an attempt to hide her painful past, but of course that is never truly possible.
Carly May on the other hand jumps from one center stage to the next, clearly seeking a sense of identity and acceptance from others. Despite their differences, years later both women feel an inexplicable connection to one another that mysterious circumstances have damaged. With unequal parts affection and animosity in the mix, fate forces these women to confront how they feel about the abduction that forced them together, and what that means for how they relate to each other and the world going forward . Mitchell masters the art of displaying the complex nature of the human mind and how our experiences mold us.
The timeline of the novel bounces back and forth between the present and past, and from one character’s point of view to the next. It can get more than a little confusing to figure out who is talking when and about what moment in their collective history. It’s possible Mitchell wrote in this style intentionally to convey the sense of general confusion that these women exist in.
“I hope [the book] raises questions about our culture’s fascination with child abduction, about how we understand and navigate the relationship between our past and present selves, and our ideas about beauty, among other things,” said Mitchell.
I tend to judge a book based on if the story being told proves predictable or not, and Mitchell is nothing if not unpredictable. Like Jodi Picoult and other popular plot-twisting novelists, Mitchell seems to have a long and productive writing career ahead of her. She said for her next novel she is toying with the idea of writing about life in an insane asylum.
Mitchell gave a reading on Friday, Sept. 4th in Kathy Cashen Hall. Clearly Mitchell has placed a firm footing into the novel-writing business, and has no intention of moving.