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Perfect Reader: A Novel Paperback – July 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This imaginative debut takes a profound look at the connection between words on the page and the infinite interpretations for a reader. For heroine Flora Dempsey, the father-daughter bond is a further complication. Flora moves back to her picturesque New England hometown after the death of her father, former president of the town's local college, where she discovers that her inheritance includes the role of literary executor. Lewis Dempsey, an academic writer, has left behind a manuscript of erotic poems written to Cynthia, his lover, whose existence is a surprise to Flora. Cynthia, meanwhile, attempts to become part of Flora's life, wanting friendship—and publication of the poems. Overwhelmed, Flora navigates her father's poetry, retreats into her memories of childhood and her parents' divorce, and poignantly contemplates the acts of reading and writing. Pouncey has skillfully created a portrait of smalltown academia, where the relationships between reader and text are just as elusive and complex as the relationships between father and daughter, husband and wife, or between two lovers. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Flora, a twentysomething magazine editor, enjoys her visits with her long-divorced, revered literary critic, former college president father, but she has never bothered to read the book that made him famous, Reader as Understander, or the new, unpublished poems he’s entrusted her with. When he dies unexpectedly, Flora is stunned to find herself designated as his literary executor. In a miasma of regret and grief, she quits her job and returns to her stifling New England hometown, Darwin, much to her irascible mother’s dismay. There Flora discovers that her father’s poems were inspired by his love for an art historian fond of flowers and bright colors who is anxious to see the lyrics in print. Flora––testy, rude, “wolfish,” and terribly lonely—enrages everyone as she struggles to understand all that she’s lost and found. Although poorly paced, Pouncey’s first novel is nonetheless sparkling, shrewd, and at times hilarious in its parsing of family dynamics, academic competition, the solace of literature, the aggression of the blogosphere, and what it truly means to be a “perfect reader” and a generous soul. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307474801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307474803
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,038,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Pasiphae on April 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Perfect Reader is a novel of character, in the sense of well-drawn characters and in the sense of doing "right." This is the story of the educated elite who trumpet their concern over recycling, pet ownership and local wildlife, while remaining blind to the concerns of financially desperate working class people who live twenty miles away. My guess is that you would have to find their concerns (literary criticism, literary research, lectures, faculty jostling) interesting to find this book interesting.

I thought this book was beautiful and merciless and sad, like the main character, Flora Dempsey. Flora is educated, financially comfortable, undeniable privileged and profoundly unhappy. Her parents' divorce, a childhood accident, a lack of talent equal to her father's; whatever the source, the author has carefully presented just how miserable this young woman is, and how mean that makes her. She returns to the fictional town and college of Darwin to sort out her father's home and papers after his death. He's a respected critic and who was at one time president of Darwin college. He's respected enough that Harold Bloom is at his funeral, which sets off a small cascade of referential in-jokes at Bloom's expense. My point is, either you'll gobble that up or you'll roll your eyes. I laughed.

One of the burdens of intellectualism the way it can strip away the comforts and consolations available to people who don't study everything to death--hobbies, service to others, honest physical labor. Flora tries to take a class, walk the dog, make the best of her freedom from work, but she suffers from that profound disaffection of sitting smack in the middle of her WASP privilege while feeling alienated from all the other people sitting alongside her.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on May 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very well written and intelligent new novel. The basic plot concerns Flora, a not very happy woman in her late 20's, who leaves her job at a New York City magazine to come home to a small New England college town in order to settle the estate of her recently deceased father. Her father was a prominent academic specializing in the poets Larkin and Hardy and also the former president of a prestigious college which sounds a lot like Amherst (complete with the museum/home of a poet who shares several characteristics of Emily Dickinson) even though the author chooses to call town and college Darwin. Flora soon finds she has not just inherited her father's house and money but also some unpublished poems of which he wished her to be the literary executor. Although she at times wishes he had left this duty to someone else she also learns a lot about her childhood, her parents and her adult self along the way.

The novel is seamlessly written and seems so genuine I have to believe some of it is autobiographical. Author Pouncey presents characters that are well rounded, consistent and memorable. Her portrayal of the elite college town of Darwin and its rather self absorbed inhabitants is one of the best parts of the book. And though Flora can be an annoying character she is always an interesting one. Though a relatively short book it is not a quick read but one the reader wants to take time to savor. PERFECT READER will be a favorite of many thinking, literature loving, book lovers.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By C. Quinn on April 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really wanted to like this book more than I ultimately did. The writing was intelligent and nuanced, and the storyline, centered as it was around books and reading, was a strong draw. Unfortunately, I found a lot of promise that was never really fulfilled, making for a frustrating read in the end. I never felt emotionally invested in the characters or their lives; for a book with so few personalities, none of them were particularly well-developed except for Flora, and I found her hard to like. The glimpses of Flora's childhood were the most emotionally compelling portion of the narrative, and came too infrequently for my taste.

In the end, I found myself unable to make a connection to these characters. Though the writing was strong, the sense of detachment made it possible to walk away from the book without a qualm to do chores or run errands. When I came to the end, I was neither glad to be done nor sad to be finished- I didn't have a viceral enough reaction to the book to care one way or the other.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on September 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm doing something a bit different for me in this review. I usually make a point of not looking at other reviews before I write my review, as I don't want to be influenced by what other people think. Fortunately or unfortunately, my curiosity got the better of me in this case. I loved this book so much I wanted to sneak a peek and see what the "average" rating was. When I saw that the average was about 3.5 I was amazed that it was so low. I didn't look at the positive reviews, but I was curious to see what the people who had given the book one or two stars had written. I won't comment on any specific reviews, but I've digested the negative reviews and I want to respond in a generic way. I think this might be helpful as the reviews, positive and negative, seem to be all over the place and I know that when I'm trying to decide whether or not to buy a book from Amazon I get especially confused in this type of situation and usually end up not making the purchase. So, here goes.....

This is, primarily, a book about characterization. As you can see from the description provided by Amazon, the plot is pretty basic. It is true that nothing earth-shattering or really exciting happens. It's not that kind of book. What we do get are some very well-developed characters interacting in believable ways. We get a lot of intelligent and funny, and also nasty and childish, observations about people and their beliefs. I was a bit taken aback that several reviewers were very sour on the book because they didn't like Flora. They thought she was selfish and immature and were bored by her observations. Personally, I thought she came across as a very complex, real young woman. Is she totally admirable? No. On the other hand she is far from being despicable.
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