Pros: deep, realistic characters
Cons: too realistic at times; I don't want to read about my own life
There are times when I read a really good book but sort of wish I'd never picked it up. Reading Jessica Shattuck's Perfect Life was one of those times.
::: The Plot :::
Four friends who attended Harvard together have hit their mid-thirties, most of them still in touch with each other regularly. Elise and her partner Chrissy have twin boys Chrissy conceived using a sperm donor. Laura and her husband Mac have two girls and a typical suburban life, complete with Laura's low-effort job and an au pair. Jenny has been upwardly mobile in her marketing job for a pharmaceutical firm where Elise also works, as a researcher. But when Jenny's husband turns out to be infertile, she turns to a friend of the three women (and Jenny's ex-boyfriend), the brilliant but seemingly unmotivated Neil for a sperm donation. Neil agrees to her terms: any child conceived would never know he was the father, and he has no contact with her or her familiy.
Neil, however, throws a monkey wrench into the perfect set-up and returns to Boston for a year-long gig for a game company, his version of "selling out." In no time, he's creeping around Jenny's house to see his child, having an affair with Laura, adding to a rift between Elise and Chrissy, and screwing Jenny's employee (who's also a work colleague of his) on the side.
::: All Too Real :::
I like to read fiction as an escape from the stresses of everyday life. Perfect Life is anything but an escape. Shattuck has a fairly large cast of characters to keep track of, but she's given each of them the depth that makes them real. Anyone of a certain age can identify with Laura's ennui: stuck in the suburbs with an inattentive husband and a lackluster sex life. It's the same with Elise and Chrissy; Elise fears that Chrissy's biological link to their sons is shoving her out of the picture, and when her perfect job adds to the stress, the perfect life she thought she had doesn't look quite so perfect anymore.
The reader will find him- (or her-) self rooting for Neil, though. The wunderkind who never managed to get out of the starting gate, he's even more lost than his old friends, and you want him to find something--anything--that gives him something to hold onto. That feeling of waking up one day to find out that your youth has passed you by with not much to show for it is palpable, and painful.
Perfect Life is an all-too-realistic novel that may hit a little too close to home to be what I'd call enjoyable.