Monday, August 02, 2010
Flora Dempsey, 28 years old, has been called back to Darwin to deal with the sudden death of her father, Lewis, a retired college president who was still very much a presence in this small college town right up to the day of his death. Cynthia is the lover Lewis Dempsey left behind, a teacher still employed by Dempsey’s old school, and someone whose very existence comes as a shock to Flora. Cynthia had hoped to spend the rest of her life with Dempsey – but now he is gone. Joan is Flora’s mother, the woman who divorced Lewis Dempsey almost two decades earlier precisely because she could not stand playing the “president’s wife” role assigned to her by small-town academia - and who is still angry that her ex-husband ever had the nerve to expect her to fill that role.
Flora is an unhappy young woman. She is not satisfied with her life in the big city, including the magazine job that makes that life possible, so she is almost eager to walk away from it all to begin a new one in the house she has inherited from her father. When she meets her father’s lawyer, a man whom she sees as a potential lover of her own, Flora learns she has inherited more than just the assets her father left behind. She has also inherited the obligation of serving as his literary executor and now she will have to decide whether the poems her father entrusted to her care will ever be published.
By entrusting his daughter with his final work, Lewis Dempsey may have been hoping to find his own “perfect reader,” that person who would read his poems exactly as he intended them to be read, with complete understanding of their message and source. Realistically, such a thing is near impossible to achieve and, in the case of the Lewis Dempsey and his daughter, their complicated relationship will doom it from the start.
Flora will spend much of her time in Darwin, a town she feels is “three hours from everywhere,” being reminded of her unhappy childhood there. Pouncey skillfully interweaves stories from Flora’s childhood about sharing time with both parents after the divorce, and about a devastating incident involving her best friend, with the current day experiences that trigger those memories. In the year-long process, Flora will learn as much about her own life as she does about her father’s and about the woman she has come to see as such a rival to her father’s memory.
Perfect Reader will particularly appeal to those readers who enjoy delving deeply into the heads of a novel’s characters and those with an interest in the inner workings of a small town college. This one is not long on action or plot twists, but it leaves the reader with plenty to think about.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)