A How Pretty Town
Outskirts Press (2022)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for ReaderViews (01/2023)
“A How Pretty Town” by Bruce Evans follows Wayne, an aging, privileged white man who is quite happy with how things are, thank you very much. He does not necessarily understand that constant changes in technology and social media, or in shaking up the history books, or in replacing old town relics with shiny new chain restaurants or fancy buildings. He has lived in his hometown of Edmonds, Washington, his entire life. Now, as he passes his 80th birthday, all he really wants is to train hard so he can achieve his current dream: Win the gold medal in softball at the Huntsman Senior Games.
“A How Pretty Town” provides readers with a look inside the quaint, quintessential all-American town. There is not much diversity, as well there is no blatant segregation, the population has always remained mainly white. The older generations are happy to keep on going on as they always have, some even perplexed as to why the younger folks seem so keen on shaking things up in politics, the economy and social culture. While I, myself, certainly didn’t always agree with some of Wayne’s opinions, I could understand where a man of his background, at his age, was coming from. Change affects us all differently, and our age and stage of life can certainly aid or exacerbate how we go through it. Younger generations have more time to adapt and have even been hard-wired to view radical change in the world as normal. Older generations, however, such as Wayne’s, grew up, married, had families, and got jobs in an America that really was from a different age.
“A How Pretty Town” was slightly difficult to follow, as the narration relies on Wayne’s point of view. While I came to recognize the way he seemed to bounce from present to memory, it did make it slightly difficult at times to figure out what time period of his life I was actually in. The super long paragraphs and chapters also made the book feel a little tedious on the eyes at times, but, again, I can also see how this strategy was perhaps intentional so as to represent the mental state of the narrator. I’m actually reading a different book at the moment, “The Stroke of Winter,” by Wendy Webb, and there was a quote that I think rather perfectly sums up what “A How Pretty Town” may be trying to get at: As we age, the glamor of collecting new experiences and memories may fade as we fight to remember those we have already collected. Especially for senior citizens in their 80’s and 90’s, who may or may not have cognitive impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, this struggle is part of a daily routine. Even at my age, still in my late 20’s, I think about how scary it is to possibly lose my memories someday. Alzheimer’s runs in both sides of my family, and one of my biggest fears has always been, essentially, “losing” my life without physically losing it – that is, losing the memories and experiences that made it in the first place.
Due to the unique style and aims of the book, I do wonder if “A How Pretty Town” might have more of a hard time finding a really wide audience. I think it will hit home most significantly with those who like introspective literary fiction. I can see it becoming popular in book clubs or reading lists that focus on material that is seeking to influence how we reflect on how our environments shape us, and that encourage readers to read books that force them to question their own comfort levels with the changes occurring in their own lives and in the world around them. From my understanding the book is really, above all, a commentary on how we are all struggling to find and retain both our individual and collective identities and dignities as we age and are forced to reconcile ourselves to changes in our physical, cognitive and social capabilities.