The Perfect Man
Trade Paperback/445 pages
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". . . richly evocative with minutely drawn literary portraits of memorable characters. . ."
The Perfect Man : Life in a small backwater southern town as seen through the eyes of youth.
Rajiv Travers’s mother, sold to his father for twenty pounds, died in the monsoons. His father soon takes him to England to live with Raj’s Uncle Haig and his family. Raj’s father leaves for Australia without a second glance, looking for his next deal. Raj does not fit in with Haig’s family, and Haig soon takes Raj to America to live with his brother Oliver in Pisgah, Missouri. The day Raj and Haig arrive everything goes wrong—but not Haig’s plans to leave Raj.
The adults of Pisgah see only Raj’s black skin, but Annie and Lew see so much more; they see a friend who fits in with their tightly knit group in spite of what the adults think or say. Raj uses his wit and intelligence to fit into the cracks and crevices in a new world of strangers whose secrets are darker than his skin. He remains at the center, a calm silence like the eye of a hurricane, around whom rages the emotional and physical convulsions of a world alternately disgusted by—and drawn to—the little black-skinned Indian boy who provides a focus for blame, for change, and for love.
There is no doubt a black-skinned Indian boy in 1950s Missouri would cause quite a stir, but what makes The Perfect Man such an fascinating story is Naeem Murr’s facility with creating and populating a small southern town with a full spectrum of people whose secrets, quirks and everyday life provide a running commentary on a way of life and thinking that aptly represents post war America. Through the adults’ prejudices and disappointments, Murr demonstrates how the sins of the fathers (and the mothers) affect their children at the end of World War II. He demonstrates the labor pains of a new generation, who never knew the horrors of war, and how they adapted, imperfectly, to a whole new way of life.
Each of Pisgah’s citizens is unique, a commentary on the collapse of the Old World and the struggle to find balance and a future in a New World. As seen through the eyes of Rajiv and the other children, the adult world is often confusing and incomprehensible. Murr writes knowledgeably and empathetically about the post war generation’s struggle to define their own identities, choosing a path that diverges completely from the world into which they were born.
Mingling the past with the present and future, Murr jumps from Rajiv’s introduction to Pisgah and back into the past, building a scaffold for the coming events that uncovers the best and worst in Pisgah’s citizens. The first flashback is jarring and disorienting at first, the segue nearly nonexistent. As the story continues, the interweaving of past and present settles into a comfortable rhythm. Although The Perfect Man is essentially Raj’s story, he is a sketchy character who moves like a ghost through the lives around him, his actions unclear and his emotions overlaid with comic and painfully accurate impersonations of those around him. He seems to be as unknown to himself as he is to those whose lives he touches. Annie is the most clearly drawn. It is through Annie and her friends that the world and underworld of Pisgah are laid bare.
Murr’s writing is richly evocative with minutely drawn literary portraits of memorable characters and a strong sense and sensibility of place.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell