In A Perfect World
by Laura Kasischke
In a Perfect World is a disturbing look at an apocalyptic world, devastated by the Phoenix Flu. Only it doesn’t start out that way. At first, you might think you’re reading yet another tale of the evil stepdaughter, ruining the sweet stepmother’s one chance at true love. But the story gradually evolves into something much more mature and meaningful. It makes perfect sense, actually, that an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario would help facilitate character growth and development. Kasischke takes full advantage of the emotional devastation wrought by the tragedy.
The story begins with Jiselle, a flight attendant, dating and eventually marrying Mark, a much-sought-after widowed pilot. Mark is a good-looking charmer at first glance, but begins to show signs of chinks in his armor almost immediately after the honeymoon. As he stays away from home for longer and longer periods of time, with phone calls few and far between, Jiselle quickly starts wondering what in the world she’s gotten herself into. She went from an exotic partying and travelling lifestyle to an extremely quiet and lonely life in a log cabin in middle suburbia. She finds herself trapped with three children—a hostile teenage girl, a second girl on the fence about what to feel about her new stepmother, and an affectionate younger boy. None of them are quite over the death of their mother, who was hit and killed by their school bus, and all of them are missing their father.
Once the flu pandemic hits, their father is quarantined somewhere in Germany (since plane travel appears to be the main source of spreading this flu), and they are more or less stuck in their home, once gasoline and food shortages hit. There’s really nowhere to go, anyway, since no one is sure where “safe” is. As you would imagine, the forced closeness and palpable fear brings Jiselle closer to the children. She’s the only one they can trust, the only one who has ever not left them.
Obviously, there are many opportunities for poignant moments, mixed among the ordinary ones. Kasischke does a wonderful job of pulling the reader in and making it feel as though you’re right there in their living room with them, playing endless games of chess, wrapped in blankets in front of a roaring fire, and snacking on whatever is at hand. There’s the feeling of timelessness, as their schedules cease to matter, and time becomes one long, endless vacation of late nights and sleeping in the following day. Their trips into town become fewer and fewer, as they try to conserve, try to survive. One by one, they learn of celebrities dying off (Brittney Spears being the one to devastate the girls), and eventually people closer to them. It’s a scary world, though an all too real one, making it all the more scary.
I do know from reading several reviews of this book that many readers did not appreciate the ending, which was rather abrupt and left much to the imagination. Though I did read it a month or so ago (and several books ago), I don’t recall feeling as mad about it as some reviewers, who wanted to throw the book against the wall. What I do recall is that it was extremely thought provoking, and that it took me a while to be able to start another book (which is unusual for me). Perhaps it was just my mood at the time (I was on vacation), but I really did not mind the all-too-sudden ending; possibly because I had the time, for once, to imagine whatever sort of conclusion I wished, to luxuriate in the myriad possibilities. Another time, another place, who knows, I may have wanted to throw the book, too. So, reader beware, if you do not like endings that are left hanging, this may not be the book for you. That being said, In a Perfect World is an enjoyable book that will surely get you thinking about what and who is important in your life.