Sunday, December 13, 2009

Romantic and haunted: In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

It seems to be my month for dystopian novels, and In a Perfect World is the second one to be reviewed here in a short time, the previous one being Margaret Atwood's excellent The Year of the Flood.  In some ways, In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke reflects the tropes of romance literature:  a stewardess, unlucky in love, has a chance meeting with a dashing pilot, falls in love, and gets married.  The reader knows from the outset that this romantic set-up is soon to be ironically twisted.  If the first line of the book, "If you are READING THIS you are going to DIE!" can be dismissed as the poisonous ranting of a rebellious stepdaughter's diary, the fact that a famous music star (I'm no spoiler; read the book if you want to find out who) dies of a mysterious illness dubbed the Phoenix Flu in the first few pages cannot.  This flu becomes a pandemic, and like Daniel Defoe's historical novel, A Journal of the Plague Year, Kasischke's novel chronicles, through the experiences of one family, the ravaging of family, neighbors, and society the disease causes.

The novel deftly manages the downward arc of a crumbling society and the character arc of Jiselle, the aforementioned stewardess, as she progresses in her role as caretaker of the children of a largely absent father.  The other character to experience significant development is Sara, the teenage rebel.  The background against which that development occurs is what makes it moving, as the story itself--a stepmother winning the heart of a rebellious daughter--is somewhat predictable.  The husband, the dashing pilot, is very much a figure out of romantic fantasy, crossed with the hard truth that he is virtually never home.

The writing is mostly excellent, although there are a couple of false notes.  At one or two points, descriptive passages strike one as overly precious; but of course, this language is ultimately a set-up for the more serious situations that follow.  Around the middle of the book, there is a bit of an inconsistency involving a radio; Jiselle listens to it during a power outage at one point, and then a couple of chapters later, she cannot listen to radio during one of the many outages because all the household's radios are plug-in.  The working of the radio or not, however, is not pivotal for the plot, but rather a setting and mood-establishing item.

The ending of the book is quite powerful and well written, and overall the story is moving and even haunting.  It deals powerfully with themes of love, loss, and survival.  Overall, I can recommend this book despite minor imperfections.  The Kindle edition is $8.79; the paperback price is $10.07.

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Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I agree with your assessment of the book. When I first started reading this I wasn't sure whether I would like it, but It was really pulled together nicely.

BookishDude said...

Thanks, Nicole! BTW, would you like to do a guest review for my blog? The only criterion is that the book be available for the Kindle, which I can check if you don't have one.

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