In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

At 32, Jiselle McKnight has been a bridesmaid no less than six times, so when her co-worker, a sexy airline pilot, starts to woo her and wants to marry her, she is more than happy to overlook a few things to become the next Mrs. Mark Dorn. Doubts plague her relationship before she even gets married— after all he could just be marrying her to to gain some reliable childcare- and although her mother tries to save her from the similar problematic issues that destroyed her own marriage, Jiselle is unwilling to listen.

The mysterious Phoenix flu, whose origins and causes are widely speculated yet never pinned down surround the inauspicious beginnings of Jiselle’s marriage, and the hysteria about the the outbreak does little to ease her into wedded bliss to a perpetually traveling and highly attractive husband or into the instant family that she is attempting to create with two teenage daughters who hate her, and a meek young stepson.  Jiselle has to find a way to either sink or swim within her new role as wife and stepmother but also find her footing  in a country caught in the throes of a nationwide epidemic.

Jiselle was a hard character for me to cotton to in the initial chapters of this book. Naive and more than a little detached she seemed to float through the world without any urgency or a sense  of the consequences of her actions. Marrying a man with three kids whom she had yet to meet, a week before her wedding as people are dropping like flies from a flu whose source is yet unidentified, seemed to be the height of crazy. The novel unfolds with a curious vague and dreamy quality that matches Jiselle’s personality but seems a little odd at times when compared to descriptions of the epidemic.

I warmed up to Jiselle as she started to wake up a bit and take responsibility for herself and got a better handle on her role within the family, and was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this novel. While none of the specifics of the epidemic were ever discussed there was enough information about the changes in the environment and the functioning of the society to keep me grounded in the novel and the gravity of their situation.

I enjoyed that the narrative could focus on the personal aspects of how the epidemic affected the family and the changes that it made in their lives, the ways that it would bring them together and tear them apart. Kasischke strikes a fine balance between the dream-like and the horrific, and though most of the book is is limned in the weight of serious matters the book manages to escape being overwhelmingly bleak.  I read with great curiosity to find out what would become of Jiselle and her family.

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