Beautiful Girls is the debut compilation of short stories by Beth Ann Bauman. The stories provide a glimpse of the secret thoughts and private lives of girls and women, from elementary school-aged girls to women approaching their fifty-year mark. Each character is the type of girl or woman anyone might know as an acquaintance, neighbor, friend, sister, classmate, or coworker.
But each character has an inner beauty or tender quality that is not readily apparent to the casual observer. These girls and women have their own private individual hopes, desires, dreams, despair, problems and fears. They are all different, but they are all the same in that they are yearning for some more in their lives, something that is better and lasting.
"In the Middle of the Night" features Allie, an elementary schoolgirl. Her parents are married but mentally worlds apart. Allie’s mother has moved up to the attic, and Allie’s father has taken a lover who phones their home in the middle of the night. In "True", Janet is a pretty but shy teenager who takes lessons on how to act from Nolan, a boy who is the prettiest person in the entire school. "Stew" is about a boy who babysits two young girls one evening as he ponders about the teenaged girls in his high school drama class.
"Beautiful Girls," the titular story, is about a teenaged girl named Dani who longs to win the Miss Merry Christmas contest at her high school and to beat her best friend, Inggy. Inggy is a tall, beautiful blonde of model proportions who is an innocent, pleasant girl from an intact family, while Dani is pretty but promiscuous, rebellious and confused. Dani lives with a volatile mother and her two half-sisters, Daffodil and Dorrie.
In "Eden", Eve and Adam meet on a cruise ship while vacationing with their respective mothers. Eve is an almost-thirty-year-old woman looking to fall in love when she finds Adam, a hippie-turned-schoolteacher from New Jersey. In "Wash, Rinse, Spin," a young attorney named Libby deals with lost laundry while attempting to hold a bedside vigil at the hospital where her terminally ill father resides. Libby resorts to wearing her old clothes from the days when she worked on "B" horror movie sets. "Safeway" and "Wildlife of America" involve older women who are divorced and similarly interesting characters of varying ages and circumstances.
Every word counts in a short story, simply because brevity is required. The stories in Beautiful Girls examine the lives of these girls and women in an in-depth yet tender fashion that only a strong literary voice can manage in short stories. Similar to works by Elizabeth Berg, there is a sprinkling of witty humor throughout the stories and a poignant quality to Bauman’s writing. Beautiful Girls is one of those books in which you are able to understand and relate to the characters and wish that each story would continue, so you could keep track of Allie, Libby, Dani and the remaining beautiful girls, simply to know how they are doing.