Wednesday, August 04, 2010
In a Perfect World, by Laura Kasischke
There are really layers of story going on in this novel. First, there is the dubious "love" story between Mark and Jiselle. As I was reading I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to turn out, but I also knew with the certainty of someone who has also convinced herself that a love is true that Jiselle as going to get sucked in. Then there is the story of Jiselle's relationship with the children. While I've never been a step-mother, I am married to one, and I know first-hand how difficult it can be to negotiate the unspoken rules that make each family function. And, of course, at its essence this is a survival story, one that pits humans and their institutions against the vagaries of the natural world. This as a theme is not uncommon in contemporary literature. As we discover more about global warming and the impact that humans have on the planet more and more authors are exploring this idea of man against nature. That theme has existed in literature for much longer than our current climate crisis, but unlike some of those earlier stories, in today's literature nature usually wins, forcing humans to adapt to the new reality of life without the conveniences we have come to rely on.
One of the most interesting things about the story, to me, is the fact that Kasischke chose America as the place where the pandemic begins, and created a world where it was Americans who were denied access to foreign countries, and American products being turned away from prots worldwide, and American flights that weren't allowed to land at the world's airports. Though I don't know the author's intent, the sory felt like an allegory for the way that American culture is exported globally, and the idea that American commercialism and political dominance could be a disease spreading around the globe was inescapable for me. If nothing else, that particular plot point turned the tables on the usual way of things, with America being the arbiter of who and what is worthy to enter our boundaries. I can't believe that was completely accidental on Kasischke's part. All in all, this was an enjoyable, thought-provoking way to spend a beautiful summer day-even if I've probably bought a few too many cans of tuna in the last week or so!