Leanne Shapton’s graphic non-fiction book Was She Pretty? takes its title from the question you always want to ask after hearing about your significant other’s ex. In her research, the author and illustrator asked people she knows about their ex-boyfriends or girlfriends: the result is a book of very short true stories (most are only a few sentences long) accompanied by Shapton's minimalist illustrations. A lot of the classic exes are there: the older woman, the kinky one, the artist, the foreigner, and more. Many of the stories are relatable. Some of the things you read about an ex-girlfriend will make you want to groan and say, “Of course she does.”
One of my favorite stories is the ex who posed for life drawing classes. I mean, how can anyone measure up to someone who’s not only a model, but a nude model? Some anecdotes make you want to punch these people’s exes in the face on their behalf, like this one: “Colin’s ex-girlfriend Heather was an independent feature film director who sometimes did videos. She once stated in an interview, ‘I couldn’t make a blockbuster if I tried!’” I hate her already. For some reason, your significant other’s ex always seems to be better than you: prettier, cooler, and more accomplished, and this book has plenty of stories like that, such as, “Leo’s ex-girlfriend had a cult following." Despite only being a few lines long, these vignettes often reveal a lot about the romantic relationship between two people. Shapton’s beautiful illustrations recall the drawings of Henri Matisse. Was She Pretty? is a great read if you want a voyeuristic tour of other people’s exes, and it may even help you through your own jealousy.