Perfect Reader begins after labor day when Flora, the story’s protagonist, arrives to her newly inherited house in the town she grew up in. Her father has unexpectedly died. Flora is the only child of divorced parents and now in her early thirties, the sole inheritor of her father’s home and possessions, most notably her father’s unpublished poems.
Flo’s father was an academic, the president emeritus of a private liberal arts college in western Massachusetts. She grew up in this college town and now returns to the insular world of academia where righteous admiration, petty grudges, and hunger for the successes or failure of ones peers reigns supreme.
It is hard to break the rhythm of the school year, particularly in Boston where populations and apartment leases still follow the academic calendar, years after attending school. Author Maggie Pouncey builds Flo’s story to match the September to May calendar.
The start of it all in September, Flora is uneasy, unsure of what is to come. The winter brings the beginning of the Spring semester and the opportunity to start taking control of one’s life and when May rolls around, it is time to make a move, embrace change, mirrored by the campus graduation ceremony.
Pouncey thoroughly bathes in academia in her first novel, alternately making fun of university snobbery while being snobbish for making fun of university life. Reading the Perfect Reader, one alternately feels on either side of a line.
Is Flora truly selfish or is she self-deprecating? Is university life petty or fulfilling? Is it better to be liberal or pious or are both equally undesirable? The shifting ground can leave one feeling a little ambivalent about the outcome of Flora’s story.
However, Pouncey fills the pages with pockets of recalled childhood memories that they feel like they could be your own memories. The strength of the Perfect Reader is definitely Pouncey’s descriptiveness, putting words to thoughts and memories that seem so appropriate it is like no other words could describe that moment. She describes the hidden desire to rebel, to get in trouble so well that we are reminded of our 16-year-old self.
Perfect Reader comes out tomorrow and Pouncey will appear at Brookline Booksmith on June 23rd.
Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey was received as a free review copy.