How Perfect Is That by Sarah Bird (June 2008), published by Knopf, is a morality tale about an ex-Austin society wife trying to hang on desperately to the life she once had of money, power, influence and pampering, plenty of pampering. Her “fall” down the social ladder isn’t pretty and my sympathy for her diminished as she hit each rung of the ladder. Here is the synopsis for you:
Blythe Young—a wannabe Texas princess, a heroine as plucky, driven, and desperate as Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp—is plummeting precipitously from up- to downstairs, banging her head on every step of the Austin social ladder as she falls. Not unlike the country as a whole, Blythe has surrendered to a multitude of dubious moral choices and is now facing the disastrous consequences: bankruptcy, public humiliation, a teensy fondness for the pharmaceuticals, and no Pap smear for ten years. But worst of all, she is forced to move back into the fleabag co-op boardinghouse where she lived when she was a student at the University of Texas.
Though Blythe cares much more about the ravaged state of her nails, and how to get the ingredients for Code Warrior—Blythe’s proprietary blend of Stoli, Ativan, and Red Bull that keeps everything in focus—her soul is hanging in the balance. Only when she is in danger of losing the one friend who’s been her true moral center is she ready to face her sins and make amends.
And her penance is merciless: she must find a way to lure her former socialite friends into the tofu tenement she has been reduced to. Little does Blythe know that the ensuing collision between the pierced, tattooed, and dreadlocked inhabitants and the pampered, Kir-sipping socialites offers the only hope of finding a way out of her moral quagmire.
Blythe’s still running her flagging catering business in her old neighborhood, serving what few friends she has left after the divorce. She hits rock bottom at a client’s garden party. Her staff hasn’t been paid for the last two jobs and threatens to revolt on her and her friend notices that the food to be catered to her guests was bought at Sam’s. The horror.
The problem is that Blythe needs this job badly and doesn’t mind resorting to methods that border on criminal to achieve her goal. After the garden party fiasco, Blythe turns up at a boarding house at UT, her alma mater, after being run out of the neighborhood by the IRS for tax evasion. Her old college friend, Mollie, someone she once avoided like the plaque, gives her a place to hide or stay, depending on your viewpoint.
The humorous parts of the book dwell within the first few chapters where the author pokes fun at the rich and the privileged. While Blythe is a selfish, free-loading pampered wannabe “Texas princess”, her friend Mollie is her moral conscience. A saint, really compared to Blythe. A good deal of the book has Blythe staying with her old college friend and making a pest of herself. While reading, I thought: this can’t be it. What about her life? Does Blythe have any plans to do anything about that?
There’s a bittersweet romance with Mollie that is nice in a nostalgic way. Much of the actions of the characters are largely seen in a humorous light. In a tongue and cheek kind of way. I admit, some parts of this book was funny. Take this scene where Blythe describes her mother’s life as a single parent:
Mom couldn’t help but feel she’s been welshed on when her husband had a heart attack and died shortly after “the kid” was born. Making the best of a bad deal, my mother got a “shitty-ass, monkey fuck of a job” with a phone company and grudgingly kept me in sneakers and Clearasil for the next sixteen years with periodic memos that this wasn’t “the tour” she had “signed on for” and that “we all got to float our own boat in this world.”
Blythe gets humiliated left and right in this book but this never slows her down. I find nothing humorous about someone who dodges responsibility and who is so far removed from reality that it’s frightening. The book is described as a “morality tale” but I think that’s a misnomer. But you’ll have to be the judge of that because I came away from the story unconvinced that Blythe was ever redeemed. Whatever morals she had, she didn’t mind discarding them when it suited her.
Her revelation at the end about why she married her husband who was a powerful, Texas lobbyist, was treated like a big secret throughout the story. It really wasn’t a surprise for me as to why she married, Trey Dix, The Third.
Despite Blythe’s character flaws and her Walt-Disney ending, I’d give this book a B-. Her character was written to be somewhat unlikable but sympathetic. The story falls short on convincing me on the latter. Another big problem was that the story slowed down a lot when the plot shifted from Blythe’s life of self-delusion to seeing her become an annoying house guest at UT.
Another issue for me was that there really wasn’t much in the way of character development or growth, which was disappointing. If one were to not delve too deeply beneath the surface you could find much to be enjoyed here. Wrapping this up, the first part of this novel is what I enjoyed and remembered best and so B- from me.
On a related note, I’ve read one other book by this author and that was The Boyfriend School. If you didn’t find that book funny, chances are you’ll not find this one funny either. It needs to be said though that Sarah Bird is a good writer of satire but again, not everybody will get her sense of humor. She is known as a writer of off beat characters and funny stories. My grade, B-.
How Perfect Is That, is available in hardcover, $23.95 and is available to purchase on June 10, 2008 at your favorite bookstore.