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Perfect Little World: A Novel Paperback – October 24, 2017
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“Wild. . . . [A] provocative read.” (People)
“Charming. . . . Wilson pulls off his sweet-and-tart tone. . . . The novel delights in the project’s Willy Wonkaesque sense of antic chaos.” (Washington Post)
“Delicious. . . . Wilson is such an inventive and witty writer. . . . [His] ‘perfect little world’ of a novel pretty much lives up to its title.” (NPR)
“Persistently compassionate. . . . Wilson’s best moments are funny and earnest. . . . [His] crisp language and smart plotting make Perfect Little World immensely likable and absolutely enjoyable.” (GQ)
“Quirky. . . . Wilson’s Perfect Little World finds its bliss in the vast disconnect between people’s best intentions and where they land.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“The sheer energy of imagination in Wilson’s work makes other writers of realistic fiction look lazy. . . . The novel’s grand finale . . . reminds us that not everything unpredictable is painful or bad, and that conventional arrangements have no monopoly on the profound connections that make family.” (Newsday)
“Family is far more than a biological bond; that’s not a groundbreaking idea. But Wilson has found a lovely new way of telling readers something they know by heart.” (Houston Chronicle)
“The compensation is a greater richness in the characters, and a refreshingly un-ironic attitude toward love (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
“Wilson does an incredible job of telling a compelling story while addressing important social issues. . . . Thought-provoking. (Deep South Magazine)
From the Inside Flap
Kevin Wilson's anticipated follow-up to The Family Fang, Perfect Little World is a warm-hearted and emotional story about a young woman charting her own course.
"[A] moving novel about love, parenting, and the families we create for ourselves." --Library Journal
When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she's fresh out of high school, pregnant with her art teacher's baby, and totally on her own. Izzy knows she can be a good mother but without any money or relatives to help, she's left searching.
Dr. Grind, an awkwardly charming child psychologist, has spent his life studying family, even after tragedy struck his own. Now, with the help of an eccentric billionaire, he has the chance to create a "perfect little world"--to study what would happen when ten children are raised collectively, without knowing who their biological parents are. He calls it The Infinite Family Project and he wants Izzy and her son to join.
--Kirkus, Starred Review
This attempt at a utopian ideal starts off promising, but soon the gentle equilibrium among the families disintegrates: unspoken resentments between the couples begin to fester; the project's funding becomes tenuous; and Izzy's growing feelings for Dr. Grind make her question her participation in this strange experiment in the first place.
Written with the same compassion and charm that won over legions of readers with The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson shows us with grace and humor that the best families are the ones we make for ourselves.
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This next part contains spoilers. Where the book fell short, at least for me, is it seemed to buckle under the weight of its own overly-wide scope. The book has so many characters and took place over such an extended period of time that each new layer of suspense quickly evaporated. The main character, Izzy, lives with 18 other parents, most of whom are completely indistinguishable from one another. What did Susan (or Jill or X or Y or Z) look like or want out of life? Who knows? With over 30 stick characters (19 parents + 10 brats + 4 researchers + others) are impossible to keep track of. Or care about.
In the first few years of living with her experimental family, Izzy drunkenly hooks up with one of the husbands (just making out), but then there's no post-make-out awkwardness or sexual tension. Izzy corners the Infinite Family's founder and head researcher, planting a kiss on Dr Grind, which is somewhat reciprocated, but again, nothing seems to come of it. What does Izzy think of Dr Grind as the years slowly boil on - does she have hot dreams about him? Don't know! Izzy takes art classes and attracts the attention of some damaged hunk, but again, nothing. One of the research fellows hooks up with one of the fathers and becomes pregnant, which sets up conflict of whether this younger 11th child should be allowed to join the family. Interesting, but again, just a loose end. Passion without consequences. Sex without tension - yawn! Izzy's son Cap starts to look like and take on characteristics of Hal, the crazy art teacher who impregnated Izzy before she graduated from high school, and who later killed himself before Izzy gives birth to Cap. Interesting, but again nothing comes of it. Later in the book, many women admit to Izzy that they hated her early on, yet again, nothing comes of it. Dr. Grind likes to cut himself but there's never any tension that he's going to snap and hurt himself. Or somebody else.
On the plus side, the book is always moving forward, but it feels more like meaningless and unconnected action rather than the accumulation of ever-building plot. The pieces don't pile together and burst in to some final "ah ha" reveal. Given the great situation the author creates, the reader is hoping/praying that what happens within the astro-turf complex will be more surprising and imaginative, not just somebody drank too much, somebody got stoned, somebody had an affair, one person hated another person, all kids ate their marshmallow in a nanosecond. What happens in the complex should be eerily fascinating or mind-bendingly scary - but it wasn't. Given all the talk about death, I kept hoping the book would slowly boil in to some creepy weirdness, where one or more characters slowly go off the rails as a result of the unique cult-like situation. When there's a hint that the fish were killed, I was like FINALLY something juicy is about to pop. I was even hoping Cap would turn out to be the disturbed goldfish serial killer. But everyone's so normal they are boring.
Izzy is smart and beautiful (of course!) yet wants nothing for herself. Unrealistic! She has no tragic flaws to make her human and layered. The author is so busy planting a wide garden of character flowers that Izzy never blooms. Dr Grind is a little more intriguing, especially childhood recollections of the constant friction parenting under which he was raised by his duo-psychiatrist parents (Frasier and Lilith, anyone?). Another high point is the author's rendering of art teacher Hal who gives his teenage student-girlfriend Izzy something like $50 as a graduation gift, then makes her pay for their movie date, where he behaves like a first rate borderline personality ass before he's yanked off the novel's stage, only to hopefully have his quirky personality reappear in the couple's son. Great characterization of Izzy's leading men.
And what does it all mean? What's the big take away about families, or love, or death, or parenthood, or experimentation? Um, not sure. Here the author maybe could have tied how Izzy and Preston end up as some counter point to the constant friction method Preston grew up under, but no, just another loose end. To the extent the conclusion of a novel is suppose to be the single outcome that wraps it all up in a true yet unexpected way, the book falls way short. It's like the author started out on this fabulous path with no idea where the story would end, so it ended sort of nowhere. It just petered out in a way that was so predictable I would have bet money against the obvious.
Writing a novel is incredibly tough. I think the author has real talent and must have put a ton of work in to this book. His writing is easy to absorb and images crisp, often described in refreshing terms. Yet I feel like he held back on showing us a closer look at how twisted people can be when living in a small and crowded cage, which would have been more fun to read (and probably more fun to write!). It's much more gripping to witness one insect fidget and squirm under the glare of the microscope than to watch slow tunnels forming inside the ant farm. I look forward to seeing what Wilson writes next. I just hope he lets loose and really hits it out of the ballpark.
There were some great high points in "Perfect Little World," enough so to hold my interest. I enjoyed this book and have put Wilson on my radar screen of authors to watch.
The book centers on Izzy who is sleeping with her art teacher in HS in Part 1 of the book. She is the top of her class, but wants to fail, so she doesn't have to give the valedictorian speech. She has a disconnected father and works in a BBQ shop where her manager is her father figure. As one can guess, Izzy becomes pregnant with her teacher's baby and he takes off on her. Lost and really alone, she runs into Dr. Grind.
Grind is a psychologist who is about to start a study on communal living. Parents will care for each other's children and the children will not know who their biological parents are until later on in the experiment. The cost for Izzy is 10 years of her and her child's life, but all expenses are paid and she will get a free college education.
Part 2 is each year of the experiment. I won't spoil it, but one can guess things will not run smoothly. There will be difficulty with some parents letting others raise their child, family issues, sexual tension, and a whole slew of other issues that happen when people are thrown together for long periods of time. The interesting thing is this is normal for their children since this is their lives, so they do not know there are problems. Can the program survive all of this with individual personalities running amok?
This was both a funny and insightful book at the same time. While the focus should be on the children and what will become of the them, the real experiment happens with the adults. Izzy is a single parent too in the midst of families who signed up for this, so she is always the outsider in terms of being the youngest and single, so her perspective will always be different. So, it is nice to travel with Izzy as our narrator.
The fun is seeing how bad this experiment gets. It doesn't get outrageous in the sense of diverging from reality, but it is very real as in what happens when one couple wants to divorce one another mid experiment? Or what about living in community where your wife isn't your own wife or husband isn't your only husband? While couples are expected to stay with one another, what happens when alcohol is introduced?
I found the book a fun read that got a bit laggy at times, but it could have been my situation of being stuck on a train rather than the book itself. It was a simple read too that drew me into the situation. While the couples got jumbled a bit, part of that was the point as Izzy acknowledges that she can't remember everyone's name all the time. The children are the background of the book and aren't really developed except for Cap, Izzy's child. They are just there to keep the experiment going.
I gave this one 4 stars.