Perfect Little World restored my faith in books.
I was going through a rough patch with books, particularly my Book of the Month books. I didn’t love my picks from November – January, but Perfect Little World was the perfect remedy to that, and I am re-in love with Book of the Month Club (post coming soon I swear).
Reading Perfect Little World made me feel like I was on a beach. Which was really bizarre, because for the most part, I was on a construction site in the middle of winter when I was reading this book. But, and I don’t mean to say that this book was at all in the YA category, the words flowed off the page like a Judy Blume I used to read on the beach on spring break in middle school – some of my favorite reading memories. It was easy reading, it was a little bit juicy, the characters were well developed without being heavy, and the plot moved quickly. All the makings of a perfect weekend read.
I picked Perfect Little World because of its author, Kevin Wilson. I read The Family Fang in college and while that wasn’t a five star read in my opinion, I liked where he was going with this one.
Dr. Preston Grind is raised by two psychologists who experiment on him with their child psychology theories. Dr. Grind grows up to be a psychologist himself and decides to create a utopian society where eight couples and one single mom jointly raise nine children. The book follows one participant, Izzy, and Dr. Grind from the formation of the study, through the disbanding of the society.
The engineer in me was of course scrutinizing the entire process, and here are my takeaways:
Set Up: The experiment was well intentioned and honestly, pretty well thought through. I know I can be easily convinced in books – I’m one of few out there who approves of Wavy and Kellen in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – but I didn’t feel the urge to warn Izzy of impending doom. I thought “Well, this is a good option for her and what else really would be better?” (Oh my gosh – I am hearing myself talking about Wavy and Kellen and it’s way too similar.) I’m currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is all about informed consent, and this passed that test too. Set up of the study is approved by me.
Set Controls/Variables: The experiment must be controlled. Only when things are controlled can you vary one factor. This is where things went wrong. Dr. Grind spent so much time selecting his subjects, he assumed the variables would be the children. What he didn’t account for is how much the parents could be out of his control. In reading this book, the most interesting part was really in what was assumed about the parents but turned out to be wrong. So many things about then were unknown – from unstable marriages to the unexpected sexual tension. The relationships between adults were definitely an important unknown in the success of the project.
“It’s weird. I understand how our relationship works with the kids. We are all their parents. Each one of them is our child. It takes some getting used to, but I get it now. But it’s never been super clear on how it works with all of us, the adults. What are we to eachother.”
And the eternal question – was the experiment successful? I would say, yes. We all learned a lot. I think more was learned about the parents than the children, but all of the test conducted on the children show that they benefited from the arrangement. I wouldn’t recommend the study to be done in real life, but I think in the end of the fictional study, a lot was learned and most people were better off for it.
Some External Observations:
My parents were both journalism majors and they are very very specific with word choice. I tend to overanalyze when a word is repeated throughout a book and try to understand why they repeatedly selected that word. Here are my few words from this book:
- Dr Grind always says “That’s understandable, Izzy” Replace Izzy with the name of the person he’s talking to and you have the beginning of 90% of Dr. Grind’s conversations. I think this is to illustrate the lack of emotions from Dr. Grind because of his upbringing, but I definitely picked up on this refrain. I wanted him to react!
- The word “special” is used repeatedly throughout the book, almost as a soothing tactic for Izzy. Izzy had a doll from her mom that she made tell her she was “special”. When Dr. Grind was trying to convince Izzy to join, he told her she was special. When Izzy was preparing the meat for the group, and being told how delicious it was, Izzy said she felt “special”. A reporter who was covering the society for an article called the society “special”. It’s a very interesting adjective to repeat so many times – no doubt this word choice was intentional.
“It just sounds so strange in practice. But it was really wonderful to witness. You’re part of something special here.”
- The word “cult” is not mentioned until Page 170! This society could easily be thought of as a cult, but I thought it was very interesting that for half the book, the word cult was not mentioned, and after that it was very selectively used.
“No drugs […] This is a scientific endeavor. It’s not some hippie commune.”
- Not a word, but a theme – self harm was a huge part of this book. Right off the bat we find out that Dr. Grind’s parents killed themselves. Then Hal kills himself. Dr. Grind cuts himself. And Izzy finds the pain of digging her fingers in to her arm soothing enough to fall asleep to. Obviously there are various levels of self harm mentioned here but the casual tone of it was surprising to me.
Final Quote (OK maybe three…):
“Everything hit at once. I need things to hit in a sequence and things just hit all at once. I don’t know how to handle myself sometimes” – Hal, but how often to we all feel like that?
“When the world fell apart around you, when the walls of your home cracked and crumbled, Izzy now had some idea of how to keep living. You held on to the person you loved, the one who would be there int he aftermath, and you built a new home.”
“It wasn’t fate that she felt in to this moment, no sense that any of this has been ordained. […] She was, which she rarely admitted because of her own discomfort with emotion, so fucking strong. She had made this happen through sheer force of will, and she would never, ever, let it go.”
You go, Izzy.
We won’t get in to the ending here, but let me just say I loved it.