The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty

This novel begins in a psychologist’s office where a young, exceedingly unattractive woman says she is there because her mother’s dying wish is for her to see a therapist about her weight. The therapist asks Barb Colby if her mother is dying. “No, it’s an early request,” she answers.

A half hour later, Barb strips down to reveal that she’s been wearing a grey wig, false teeth and a fat suit. One of her dear friends committed suicide a couple years before because he fell in love with her on account of her beauty. Now Barb does all she can to conceal it.

The novel is a mostly realistic tale about a group of artists in New York City who are best friends and come together to create in their separate disciplines.

Barb is a costume designer; Georgia, a novelist, who has lost (on a computer in a cab) her work in progress; Lilly, an extremely talented musician and composer; Gabriel, a master chef, but alas he’s the one who jumped out a high window supposedly because his love for Barb went unrequited.

The other members include Penelope, the only untalented artist in the group--her pottery falls apart in the buyer’s hands--, and Jack, a disabled policeman who does no art, but helps his friends in myriad ways.

But as realistic as the novel seems, it occasionally veers into the fantastic. When Lilly plays the piano while very sad, her fingers turn crystalline, and her arms, and later, her entire body. Lilly has the opposite problem as Barb. She is very plain—ugly, in fact. She’s fallen in love with Strad who is shallow enough to not be interested in her.

This somewhat philosophical novel has two characters on opposite ends of the beauty divide; both present to the world a person different than she actually is. Barb males herself dowdy and ugly; Lilly dons a mask made by Barb to make her face beautiful.

Complicating the situation is Peter, a news anchor, who has discovered Barb’s secret and has fallen in love with her.  Barb will not date anyone unless they fall for her despite her ugly looks. Another interesting element is that Barb's doorman yells epithets at her each time she enters the building.

Meanwhile Gabriel has left notes that a friend mails to the group after he dies. They concern a murder that one of the friends has committed. They tests the group members’ loyalty and morality.

This comic novel keeps you reading. It’s on the bizarre side but fun.