McElhatton, Heather 1970–
McElhatton, Heather 1970–
Surname is pronounced to rhyme with "Tackle Latin"; born 1970.
Writer and independent producer for Public Radio International. Creator and host of radio program Stage Sessions.
Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel, Harper (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of short stories to literary magazines, including Ontario Review.
After spending six years writing a novel that no one wanted to publish, Heather McElhatton found herself in unpromising circumstances: at age thirty-five she was jobless, living with her mother, and—she felt—unlikely to enjoy the brilliant career she had hoped for as a writer. Angry and depressed, she took a large piece of linoleum and a marker pen, and began making an outline of the various choices she had made and that had brought her to this apparent dead end. In the process she became intrigued by fantasies of what might have happened if she had made different decisions. If she had attended college right after high school instead of traveling in Europe, for example, how would her life have been different? Taking various alternative paths to their imaginary conclusions, she created Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel.
The book follows the structure of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels for children that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Written in the second person,Pretty Little Mistakes makes the reader the protagonist of the story and provides various directives based on choices that the reader makes at the end of each chapter, beginning with the same decision McElhatton faced: travel or college after high school graduation. Readers must also decide whether to marry various suitors, take or leave jobs, or become involved with odd characters; a seemingly unimportant decision could put the protagonist on a path toward crystal meth addiction, heroin peddling, or jobs that include phone sex operator, nude ice dancer, relief doctor in Africa, Denny's waitress, or feminist jeweler. Each of the 150 different paths ends with the protagonist's death, often by violent means, and a corresponding description of the afterlife. "My friends had to encourage me to put more ‘good’ endings in," McElhatton commented on the book's Web site. A friend "pointed out at one point the fact that I had killed most of the children [in the book]. So I had to go back and unkill them, and write about happy motherhood, which CERTAINLY EXISTS."
Many reviewers enjoyed the book's dark humor and clever premise. Sara Weinman, writing on the Time Out New York Web site, observed that Pretty Little Mistakes "delivers on its promise of addictive entertainment." In a review for Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine, Lucy Vilankulu praised McElhatton's "remarkable range," adding that her voice "is gritty, lyrical, pitiless, and compassionate, but authentic. There are moments in the book that leave you devastated and moments that make you snort with laughter." Others, however, expressed more qualified enthusiasm. Booklist reviewer Allison Block found the novel "amusing in small doses," while a writer for Publishers Weekly felt that, despite "bursts of salty humor and moments of descriptive lyricism," much of the book was "cartoonish." Giving McElhatton credit for originality "by taking an unsophisticated, gimmicky form and injecting it with a whopping dosage of X-rated content," a contributor to Kirkus Reviews concluded that Pretty Little Mistakes is too adult for young readers but too juvenile to attract a more mature audience.
The novel, McElhatton explained in an Associated Press story on the WSVN-TV Web site, "was a great book to write, because it helped me chase down a lot of those demons and figure out that I'm actually probably exactly where I should be." She made it a point, she added, to create plotlines that do not automatically lead to virtuous choices. What happens in Pretty Little Mistakes, she pointed out, is "just like life—it's just all sort of a crapshoot."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2007, Allison Block, review of Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel, p. 22.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 9, 2007, "With ‘Pretty Little Mistakes,’ It's Your Life."
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2007, review of Pretty Little Mistakes.
Library Journal, April 1, 2007, Beth Gibbs, review of Pretty Little Mistakes, p. 82.
Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine, May 1, 2007, Lucy Vilankulu, "Do Over."
Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2007, review of Pretty Little Mistakes, p. 61.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 2007, Tony DuShane, review of Pretty Little Mistakes.
Minneapolis St. Paul City Pages,http://articles.citypages.com/ (October 19, 2007), Tricia Cornell, "Mistakes Were Made."
Minnesota Public Radio Web site,http://minnesota.publicradio.org/ (October 19, 2007), "Heather McElhatton, Writer and Independent Producer."
Paste Magazine,http://www.pastemagazine.com/ (October 19, 2007), review of Pretty Little Mistakes.
Pretty Little Mistakes Web site,http://www.prettylittlemistakes.com (October 19, 2007).
Rake Magazine,http://www.rakemag.com/ (October 19, 2007), "Heavy Rotation: Heather McElhatton's Playlist."
Time Out New York,http://www.timeout.com/ (October 19, 2007), Sarah Weinman, review of Pretty Little Mistakes.
WSVN,http://www1.wsvn.com/ (November 16, 2007), review of Pretty Little Mistakes.