In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke is a story set in the near future. It’s a dystopian family drama, with a growing sense of doom extending right through to the very end.
Jiselle is a busy flight attendant who, at 32 years of age, has been a bridesmaid six times. After one particularly difficult evening at work (seven hours in a plane full of passengers that never left the runway) she is sitting in an airport bar, sipping a glass of wine, when a gorgeous pilot, Captain Mark Dorn, takes notice of her. Three months later, after a whirlwind courtship, they become engaged.
It’s on the afternoon of Mark and Jiselle’s engagement that they see the white balloons for the first time. One balloon for every victim of the Phoenix flu. Groups in every major American city are releasing white balloons. Are they a compassionate expression of concern, or a political statement and condemnation of the current administration in the White House? The media can’t decide.
And when Mark and Jiselle go out of the country for their honeymoon, they are warned that people aren’t renting rooms to Americans. Taxi drivers won’t drive Americans. Jiselle and Mark view it all as a minor inconvenience rather than any kind of true threat. The Phoenix flu, reminiscent of swine flu or bird flu, is spreading across America and beyond. Fear and panic are taking hold throughout the world and Americans are being shunned wherever they go. But Mark and Jiselle are in love *cue the angels* so they don’t focus on that.
Before Jiselle knows what hit her she is living in Mark’s log cabin and stepmom to his three children. Everything is picture-perfect. Unfortunately, Mark’s daughters hate her and make no effort to hide it, but Mark’s little boy Sam is a sweetie and they form a bond.
The new family has some adjustment issues. Jiselle quits her job to take care of the kids, and Mark, due to his flight schedule, is frequently absent. The older girls are horrible to Jiselle but she remains kind to them. The family situation reaches a crisis level and their marriage is put to the test when Mark, after a flight to Germany, is quarantined for months in that country. Even though the kids and Jiselle are still getting to know one another, they must rely on each other as the flu becomes a pandemic and the outlook is dire. Will the family survive?
This isn’t an easy review to write because the book has a bit of an identity crisis. Is it a ripped-from-the-headlines tale about a flu epidemic? Yes. Is it a romance? Sort of. A family drama? Sure. Just when I thought the story would go down one path, it went down another. I was most drawn into the story line about the pandemic. I’ve got the swine flu symptoms memorized and my kids never leave the house without hand sanitizer, so I read that part with fascination and dread. The fact that something like this could happen (is happening) makes it scary. The author included plenty of information surrounding the flu and the spread of disease to make it timely and realistic.
But the reading experience wasn’t intense. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. I thought Jiselle was a little silly, worrying more about her relationship (‘he hasn’t called.. what does it mean?’) when there were much bigger things to worry about, like how they would survive. I was less interested in the romance and subsequent family drama than about the pandemic, and when Jiselle would blather on about how handsome Mark was, it was all I could do not to skim and skip ahead to get back to the sections about the flu. It felt like two separate stories, with the one being much more compelling than the other.
I liked this book for the beautiful writing. It was a quick read that I didn’t put down until I had finished it. But I didn’t care for the ending. I don’t need a perfect ending but I do like to have something of a clue as to what happens. It’s all left up to speculation, which would probably make it an excellent choice for a book club. They could debate what happens to this family. They could give opinions on what, if anything, Jiselle heard at the end.
In a Perfect World isn’t perfect, however I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter. It’s a thought provoking read and one I won’t soon forget.
For other opinions of the book, check out the rest of Laura Kasischke’s virtual book tour:
Monday, October 12th – Starting Fresh
Wednesday, October 14th – BookNAround
Thursday, October 15th – Book Club Classics!
Monday, October 19th – A Reader’s Respite
Friday, October 23rd – The Book Nest
Monday, October 26th – Galleysmith
Thursday, October 29th – A High and Hidden Place
Monday, November 2nd – Word Lily
Tuesday, November 3rd – Books on the Brain
Thursday, November 5th – Write Meg
Many thanks to Trish for including me on this TLC Book Tour.
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