Kathleen's Reviews > Perfect Reader

Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey
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's review
Aug 17, 2010

really liked it

I chose this book because it is a first novel and its connection to my recent reading of Joan Didion’s memoir of the year following her husband’s death. While the framework of this novel and some of the young woman’s response is understandable within the Didion framework, Flora’s thinking is primarily influenced by her emotional development, which appeared to me as being stuck, immature. Over and over again she demonstrated surprising, impulsive behavior; her difficulty dealing with her father’s previously unknown girlfriend and her ties to his unpublished poetry, while reflecting her immaturity, just got old. The author takes care to lay out, over the course of the book organized by seasons, an apt metaphor for the Flora’s growth throughout the novel, a number of unresolved issues from her childhood. I may have grown impatient with her inability, previous and present, to grow up and move on.

However, there was some exquisite writing throughout the book, wonderful references to literature, poetry, authors I have not read in years, and the art of reading. There were some passages that I especially liked.

“Books were not mirrors…but windows. One ought not read to understand one’s own place in the world, or the world in abstract, but to understand the individual experience of another…And even more, to understand the individual force and resonance of words. ‘Who owns these words?’…Many talk of close reading, but what interested him was close writing.”

“A child can avoid her parents, can deceive them and have secret love affairs, but ought not the standards for the parents be higher?...She had been erased from his life, she who’d thought herself so important, the perfect reader, little more than a footnote, an aside, another person to avoid…How very right he was. But the burden, apparently, had been mutual. Why was she holding on so tightly to the past – to all the details and the proper nouns – when he had angled his life so firmly toward the future?”

“At root, it’s all about seeing differently, about looking at the world in a new way, finding something no one else has quite struck upon before – noticing.”

I appreciated the discussion of the role of the reader or viewer identifying that true reading is a selfless act, which I hadn’t considered before. Flora’s father “hated the book clubification of American culture; the “what in your life does this remind you of” approach to books, which he called method reading, appalled him.

And finally at the end, Flora shows some signs of growth: “What she had really wasn’t hers to give. And she was willing to concede it might not work out for any of them. But there was a kind of hopeful optimism in what was happening.” A fine first novel…really.


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