Pretty Ugly: A Novel

Pretty Ugly: A Novel

by Kirker Butler


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250049728
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/31/2015
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

KIRKER BUTLER is an Emmy nominated writer and producer. His TV credits include Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and The Neighbors among others. He is also the writer of the graphic novel, Blue Agave and Worm. Kirker grew up in Kentucky, and now lives in Los Angeles with his family.

Read an Excerpt

Pretty Ugly

By Kirker Butler

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Kirker Butler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5068-2


Miranda Ford never expected a simple trip to the drugstore to change the course of her entire life. She'd really just popped in to pick up her mother's Klonopin refill, but when she saw that stack of applications on the counter next to the fishbowl of complementary cigarette lighters, something deep inside her shifted. Urgent letters streaked across the page: "The 18th Annual Miss Daviess County Fair Pageant Is Looking for Contestants!" Until that moment, beauty pageants had seemed as foreign and exotic as Mexican food, but this felt different. At fourteen, Miranda was too much of a teenager to want to appear genuinely interested in anything, so she skimmed the application while projecting an aura of boredom and indifference, the same look she'd perfected while staring at Mike Greevy in algebra class and Kandy Cotton's boobs in gym. The headline was followed by the alluring question: "Are you the next Loni King?" Miranda raised an eyebrow.

Loni King, a superfriendly strawberry blonde, had been crowned Miss Daviess County Fair a few years earlier and then became a star. Soon after graduating salutatorian from Apollo High School's Class of '89, Loni left her hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky, and moved to Nashville, where she quickly landed a recording contract with Ichthus Records, an independent label specializing in praise and worship music and Bibles on tape read by celebrities. KING, her debut album of contemporary Christian music, sold more than two million copies and won three Dove Awards. Hoping to expand her music and message to a wider audience, she recorded a love ballad with Daryl Hall from the secular rock band Hall & Oates: a man who was not her husband. The song reached number eight on Billboard's Hot 100 and completely alienated Loni's Christian fan base. In June 1991 she married a bank executive who, threatened by her celebrity, encouraged her to quit music and start a family, which she did, for six months. After the couple's "scandalous" divorce, Loni quickly released an ill-conceived comeback album of honky-tonk-flavored country songs that sold a disappointing fifteen thousand copies and further turned off her godly fans. One of Loni's cousins had recently told Miranda that the singer had rededicated her life to Jesus and was in Atlanta recording an album of traditional Christmas hymns. Maybe Miranda wasn't supposed to be the next Loni King, but she was pretty sure she was supposed to be the next something.

The application continued: "Make New Friends While Competing Against Them for Cash and Prizes!" Miranda did like cash and prizes. She read on: "Learn poise, confidence, and public-speaking skills you may use for the rest of your life!" Miranda's guidance counselor had told her that without good public-speaking skills one had zero chance of becoming successful in any career. Her interest fully piqued, she read the rules:

1. Contestants must be at least 14 years old and no older than 19 years old by July 1 of this year.

2. Contestants must be a resident of Daviess County, Kentucky. (U.S. citizens only, please.)

3. Contestants must not currently be married, or have ever been married.

4. Contestants under the age of 16 must have written consent from parent or guardian to compete.

5. All races, creeds, and ethnicities are encouraged to participate. (Again, U.S. citizens only, please.)

6. A $25 registration fee is required of all contestants. Corporate and/or business sponsorship is accepted/encouraged.

7. Contestants must not currently be pregnant. (Girls with children are eligible to compete if they are single—see rule #3.)

8. Contestants will be judged in three categories: sportswear, prom/evening wear, and bathing suit. (Tasteful one-piece suits only! Two-piece suits will NOT be allowed! This is a family event!)

9. All decisions made by the judges are final and cannot be challenged in any court of law.

10. Failure to comply with any of these rules will result in immediate disqualification and banishment from the Daviess County Fairgrounds for 1 calendar year.

But it was a simple line at the bottom of the page that really hooked her: "All body types welcome!" As a proud member of the Interfaith Christian Alliance—an after-school fellowship group tasked with the seemingly impossible goal of bringing together Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and even Catholics—the statement appealed to Miranda's egalitarianism. Miranda had learned "egalitarianism" as a vocabulary word the previous semester, and liking both its meaning and sophisticated sound applied it to herself whenever possible.

Miranda took an application from the stack and slipped it into her backpack. Years later, while writing her memoirs, she tried to explain why she felt compelled to enter that pageant.

"Maybe it was fate. I don't know. Maybe it was a desire to try something that scared me. Maybe it was God opening the door to the next part of my life. Either way, it just felt like something I needed to do. And why not? It was right there in my hometown, and the local girls weren't that much prettier than me. Besides, maybe I'd been wrong about the kind of girls who did pageants. Maybe they weren't all dingbat, stuck-up phonies. Maybe they were smart, and interesting, and down-to-earth like me."

As soon as Miranda decided to enter, she began plotting how she could win. Sportswear wouldn't be a problem. She'd always been active and owned many casual shoes. For evening wear she could reborrow her cousin Denise's prom dress she had worn to the previous year's eighth-grade dance. But the bathing suit, Miranda thought, looking down at her figure, the bathing suit is going to be a problem. Flat chested and hipless, the girl's fourteen-year-old body looked more like an eleven-year-old boy's. The A-cup bra she insisted on wearing gave her more of a psychological lift than a physical one. She knew she had a cute face, and she'd even been called "attractive" by some of her dad's friends, but if she was going to compete against girls as old as eighteen, she'd need to figure out a way to augment what little she had. All body types may have been welcome, but not all body types could win.

She collected her mother's pills and crossed to a shelf stocked with vitamins and dietary supplements, scanning it for anything labeled "female" and "enhancement." The bottles promised stronger bones, shinier hair, and healthier skin, but Miranda didn't need that. She needed boobs. Pendulous, award-winning boobs. And she needed them right now.

A product called Nu Woman, a homeopathic hormone supplement for postmenopausal women, looked promising, so she dropped it in her basket and continued browsing. X-trogen promised to "promote and enhance all aspects of the female anatomy," but the woman on the package, an obviously naked Asian with the contorted face of an orgasm, totally freaked her out. She looked away, embarrassed, and that's when she saw it: a long-forgotten tube sitting alone on the bottom shelf. Peering coyly from the dusty, time-faded label, a buxom Tinker Bell–ish wood nymph waved her magic wand over the tempting words, "Her Curves All-Natural Breast Enhancement Cream." Miranda looked around, then leaned over pretending to study a bottle of children's multivitamins.

"Noticeable results in as little as 30 days! Guaranteed!"

Perfect. That gave her a month to grow them and a month to get used to them before she debuted them at the pageant.

The line at the pharmacy counter was now six deep, and Miranda felt a rush of panic. Mr. Wiggins, the pharmacist, was a family friend. He'd had coffee with her father every morning back when her father was still alive. He would know the cream wasn't for Miranda's mother, whose breasts were years past the point of concern. There was another register in the front of the store being manned by Mr. Wiggins's son, Jed, a good-looking basketball star at Miranda's school, but she'd sooner have Jed ring up a hundred boxes of ultraabsorbent maxipads than a single tube of magic breast-growing cream. But she could not leave the store without it. It had suddenly become the single most important thing in her life. Looking again at the sexy sprite's heaving bosom, Miranda felt a singular focus overtake her, and with a flush of guilty adrenaline she slipped the tube into her backpack. And to make sure she was completely covered, she took the Nu Woman pills as well.

It was her first crime, and Miranda could feel her heart pounding through her soon-to-be enormous chest. Hoping to mask her guilt, she casually meandered through the aisles, stopping to admire a new arthritis cream, a porcelain figurine of former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall, and a Fangoria magazine before making her way to the exit.

"Bye, Jed," she said a bit too loudly to the disinterested boy behind the register, and slipped out the door.

Miranda sprinted the half mile to her house, then raced to her room, tearing off her shirt and bra as she went. Standing topless in front of her full-length mirror, she studied her prepubescent form and tried to create a mental "before" picture. She then smeared a generous dollop of Her Curves All-Natural Breast Enhancement Cream all over her chest. Instantly, her skin began to tingle, and she couldn't help but smile. Buzzing with expectation, Miranda lay back on her pink canopy bed and waited for a visit from the boob fairy.

* * *

Six weeks later, a few red streaks were all that remained of the second-degree chemical burns caused by the unholy Her Curves All-Natural Breast Enhancement Cream. The tingling that had so excited Miranda quickly evolved into a searing pain that felt like a fire-breathing cat clawing its way out of her chest. She spent the rest of the afternoon under a cold shower, praying for forgiveness and an end to the torrent of angry blisters erupting on her skin. Only after covering her entire torso with plastic bags of frozen deer meat did she finally get any relief.

Miranda knew it was God's punishment for her shoplifting and vanity, but the truth was much less supernatural: Her Curves had been recalled by the FDA nine months earlier for being "deceptive and dangerous." After losing a class-action lawsuit—which revealed, among other things, that the cream had no set formula and was manufactured in an unsanitary former munitions factory in Vietnam—the now bankrupt parent company of Her Curves had been mandated by a federal judge to immediately recall all of its North American products. But Mr. Wiggins, who spent most afternoons drinking whiskey and shooting guns in the alley behind the drugstore, ignored the notice. To the product's credit, the girl's chest did noticeably swell up, if only for a few agonizing weeks.

Because Miranda had stolen the cream, she was forced to hide her shame with high-neck sweaters and scarves: a peculiar look for an oppressively humid Kentucky June, but she really had no other choice. If her parents had found out, they would have insisted on taking her to the doctor, and that nightmare was not going to happen. Despite being a teenager, Miranda still went to her pediatrician, a kindly old man who had also been her Sunday school teacher since second grade. Odds are he would want to know how she'd acquired the burns, and how was she supposed to explain that?

"Well, Dr. Johnson, I wanted to enter a beauty pageant, because I think I'm so beautiful, but there's no way I could win with my tiny little mosquito bites so I shoplifted some cream from Mr. Wiggins's drugstore that was supposed to give me enormous boobs, but it was defective and burned my little-girl chest and now I have scabs on my nipples. Would you please look at them? Thanks!"

The thought of that conversation was worse than nipple scabs, so Miranda chose to suffer in silence.

With the pageant now just weeks away, Miranda found herself right back where she'd started: flat chested and desperate. Undeterred, she charged ahead with her backup plan and took two Nu Woman pills. After an abrupt and painful period that felt like a gallon of spicy salsa fell out of her, she decided just to go with what the good Lord gave her—toilet paper, to stuff her top. It wasn't very original, but she was pretty sure it also wouldn't burn the lining of her uterus, either.

Two weeks later, Miranda sat backstage at the Miss Daviess County Fair Pageant nervously curling her hair. In the off months, the unairconditioned barn wood building served as storage for the fairgrounds' numerous maintenance vehicles as well as home to an ever-growing family of rats. The sweet smell of gasoline and cut grass mixed with the oppressive humidity made the air feel thick and flammable. Even the slighest breeze would have made a world of difference, but in 1991 a local judge fell out of a nearby tree while taking pictures of the contestants changing clothes, and since then the doors were ordered to remain closed during pageants. Putting on makeup was like trying to paint a waterfall. Thankfully, the pageant itself took place outdoors with the closest audience member a good fifteen yards away.

Halfway through the pageant, Miranda was feeling like a contender. Her sportswear outfit looked great, much better than what the other girls, even the rich ones, wore, and her interview question was practically gift wrapped: "Who in your life do you look up to the most?"

Smiling confidently, she answered, "I would have to say my grandmother, because she's the one who took me to church for the first time and introduced me to Jesus Christ, my personal Lord and Savior."

The crowd ate it up like deep-fried pickles. The only acceptable role models for young girls in a Kentucky pageant were their grandmothers and Jesus, and Miranda had name-checked them both without sounding like she was pandering. The audience was on her side, and based on the judges' approving nods she'd obviously impressed them, too. But none of that mattered. The bathing suit competition was next.

At her dressing station—a three-quarter-inch slab of plywood on a couple of sawhorses—Miranda nearly shit a Chevy when she reached into her bag and found an unfamiliar bathing suit.

"Who stole my suit?" she yelled.

Most questions shouted backstage began with "Who stole my ..." and were usually ignored save for the random "not me" barked from Nikki Rummage a bucktoothed, spaghetti-thin redhead hoping, at the very least, to come out of the experience with an attractive friend or two. When no one responded, Miranda scanned the room and mentally accused, tried, and convicted several girls she didn't like.

A note was pinned to the suit, and she quickly snatched it off. "Thought you might could use a little lift! You are a beautiful champion. Have fun and good luck. Love, Mom."

Padding had been lovingly sewn into the bust, filling it out to a generous and tasteful B-cup. Miranda swallowed the sour knot growing in her throat. What a reasonable solution, she thought, shoving the Her Curves incident to the back of her mind, on a very high shelf, where it would be ignored and then forgotten about forever. Slipping into the modest turquoise one-piece, she checked herself in the communal full-length mirror and was charmed by the tastefully bosomed young woman smiling back at her. As a finishing touch, Miranda rubbed two arcing streaks of dark foundation onto her chest, hoping that from a distance it would create the illusion of cleavage.

Perfect, she thought. Now ... let's go show 'em what you've got.

With a chestful of confidence, Miranda strutted across the asphalt stage and relished the audience's polite applause, exuberant cheers, and wildly inappropriate catcalls. Miranda's smile, like her breasts, had never been bigger.

When the time came, all nineteen contestants lined up across the stage and waited for special guest judge Kentucky State Representative Donnie Lane Mather (D-Beaver Dam) to announce the winners.

"Look at these girls up here," Representative Mather said. "Don't they just look good enough to eat?"

Marlene Martin, the pageant host and county's best church singer, smiled through her glistening teeth. "Delicious, Donnie. Just delicious."

"And now the winners," Representative Mather continued. "Miss Congeniality and Fourth Runner-up goes to ... Rose Maddox!"


Excerpted from Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler. Copyright © 2015 Kirker Butler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Pretty Ugly: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reads like a comedy, definately made me laugh, but the casual exploitation of the girls in the pagents is pretty disgusting. An interesting story told in non sequitor fashion, the story from the perspective of each character with their innermost thoughts. I will be recommending this book to my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Good story with the right amount of dark humor to keep it interesting .
NicAwesomeOle More than 1 year ago
As a person living in these times, I am surrounded (and sometimes assaulted) by beauty and reality tv. From Botched (where two doctors who were or were once married to Real Housewives stars fix plastic surgery)to The Swan (where plastic surgery is done on someone to make them beautiful), producers have made beauty intrinsically a part of reality tv. However, it wasn’t until Toddlers and Tiaras that we saw just how ugly the beauty could be. The series, featuring toddlers and their momagers shows the dark and ugly underbelly behind the scenes—it is this world that provides the backdrop for Kirker Butler’s Pretty Ugly. Bailey Ford is a nine year old, doing all she can to get her mother, Miranda, to allow her to retire from the world of beauty pageants. She’s gained weight and spends her elliptical sessions sneaking chocolate bars. Miranda, pregnant with her second daughter, Brixton (the next pageant queen) has time only to focus on all things pageant. So much so that her husband, Ray, pulls off two jobs, a mistress and a pretty troubling drug addiction without Miranda suspecting anything. Miranda’s mother, Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) spends her days ‘homeschooling’ Miranda and Ray’s two boys via television wrestling and listening to Jesus’ sound advice—because Jesus is the only one who listens to Joan. Suddenly, when Ray’s best kept secrets start to spill into their daily lives, their whole world is changed—but will it be for the better? For a dark literary comedy, Pretty Ugly takes the cake. Kirker Butler’s writing style is similar to Chuck Palaniuk, but with a bit of Carl Hiaasen mixed in. I did not expect this to be as compelling as it was, but not only was I impressed, I decided to add future Butler titles to my watchlist. As characters go, the most growth was exhibited by Miranda and Ray’s girlfriend,  Courtney. While Courtney starts off the novel as Ray’s 17-year-old mistress, without spoiling anything, she ends the novel very differently. Each of the women were pretty vapid at the beginning of the book, but throughout the course of the novel’s events, they each grow in a believeable and organic way—it is a far cry from their awful introductions. I expected to feel sorry for the children, especially Bailey. When Bailey voices her request to retire from pageants, she is able to retire (it also helps that Miranda does something pretty awful). The boys, whom have been overlooked simply because of their gender are non-characters in Pretty Ugly. As previously stated, I would love to read more from Kirker Butler, and am currently looking for something in a similar vein, or in a similar setting. Thanks to Thomas Dunne Books (St Martins Press), I was given an ecopy to read in exchange for my honest review. You can pick up Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler today at your favorite retailer—it is available in hardcover or ebook form.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is funny without being mean spirited. It was hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quick, fun read. Such outrageous characters, you almost feel bad for them at times. Definitely reccomend this book.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Great read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny and quick read
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It looks good .