Waking Beauty by Elyse Friedman (Three Rivers), 244 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
When I heard the synopsis of Waking Beauty, the story of plain-Jane Allison Penny, who awakens one morning to find she's drop-dead gorgeous, I exclaimed: "My life in print!" Well, not exactly. What Friedman has done beautifully is craft a novel that wickedly depicts the power of beauty - North American culture's definition of beauty, that is. The narrative is candid, insightful and cynical. Friedman cuts up the Canadian class system with razor-sharp wit.
While sleeping, overweight and unattractive Allison morphs into a living Barbie doll complete with a flawless golden complexion, glossy Nordic-blond locks and large gravity-defying breasts. Whatever is a gal to do? In a word, get revenge.
Before her miraculous transformation, Allison had a dead-end job, a crush on Woody Allenesque video store clerk Nathan and a shared apartment with Virginie, the roommate from hell.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but Allison soon discovers that it's especially delicious served piping hot. At first she's hesitant and unsure of her lust-inducing appearance, but after giving a construction worker the coffee break of his life she, like so many other superheroes before her, realizes the extent of her power and that she must use it for good.
In this novel, "good" means several hilarious revenge scenarios. But does being beautiful solve all of Allison's problems? Of course. Beauty trumps all. Shallow? Hardly. Allison's earthy persona is still intact, only now it inhabits a heavenly body. Friedman explores the concept that perspective is everything. Think Kafka's Metamorphosis meets Extreme Makeover as interpreted by Robert Altman and you have an idea how brilliant Friedman is.