Imperfect Bliss

Imperfect Bliss
Susan Fales-Hill
Published by Atria Books
Available July 3, 2012
304 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley and edelweiss for the previews.
3.5 / 5 cupcakes

I don’t know if I was in the mood for something sweet and fluffy, or if in deed this is a good book, but I liked it. It’s one of those books where at first blush, you think, “Cute premise, wacky characters, sweet romance.” Then as you read it, you wonder if you are supposed to be provoked into thinking about Important Issues. And therein lies the difficulty: Imperfect Bliss is cute, wacky and sweet, and the way to enjoy it is to not spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.

Elizabeth “Bliss” Harcourt and her three sisters were named after famous English queens (or in the case of Diana, would-be queens). Their Jamaican mother is obsessed with social advancement and standing, even teaching a class in decorum to young ladies. Their father, an emotionally removed Brit, watches his family, preferring observation to participation. After her divorce, Bliss returned home with her four-year-old daughter Bella. The end of her marriage remains a source of tremendous pain for Bliss, as she tallies the number of days of her self-imposed celibacy. Her three sisters seem to be in varying stages of love themselves. Victoria, the oldest, must decide whether or not to marry a man whom she does not love, but who offers her marriage and security (her mother pushes her to say yes). Charlotte, the youngest, is seventeen and more sexually active than the rest of her family combined.

Then there is Diana, a college grad whose virginity has been declared in tact by a physician. Why is this necessary? Because Diana is going to be the star of a new reality television series, The Virgin, in which hopeful swain compete to marry her and break her hymen.

For reals.

Like I said, don’t think too much about this book. But as an aside: seriously, people. How long before a show like this really happens? I’m thinking it will be sooner, rather than later. And I also suspect that Susan Fales-Hill wants us to contemplate such things and rail against the fates for even presenting the possibility. But remember … it’s best don’t think about it.

With Diana’s sudden reality stardom, the rest of the Harcourt family is thrown into a tizzy. Mother Forsythia is beside herself with boundless joy. Not only will Diana achieve fame and glory, but wealth as well, as the endorsement deals assault the family. Charlotte seethes with jealousy over her sister’s fame, while Victoria and Bliss are horrified. Their father offers oblique condemnations.

Bliss tries to stay away from the madness by immersing herself in motherhood and the pursuit of her doctorate. But television calls, namely in the comely forms of Wyatt, the show’s host, and Dario, its director. She is drawn to both men, and they appear drawn to her. As much as she wants to protect her heart and her daughter, she feels the pull of potential romance.

He no longer fit neatly into her Cro-Magnon-cad classification. His nuances, while intriguing, were beginning to disturb her. She wasn’t certain she could trust her own judgment anymore, having undermined her profound faith in her own infallible instincts. She’d replaced them with a general wariness of all men who reminded her in any way of her husband. Dario was such a man. With his palpable sensuality and magnetism, he inspired the same mistrust and desire to escape. If she’d been honest with herself, she would have admitted that he scared her.

She is equally as frightened by her attraction to Wyatt.

Clearly Susan Fales-Hill intends us to think about racism; the Harcourts are mixed, and we are told about various racist incidents they have faced. We also are to consider society’s current bent toward fame at no cost and with no foundation. Marriage, too, is delivered as something we should ponder. What makes a good marriage? Who are any of us to judge another couple’s choices?

But, as I warned you at the start, to do Fales-Hill’s bidding and think about this stuff is to find yourself not liking the book. There are too many problems. For instance, the racism is sort of tacitly brought up but never developed. The reality television condemnation is more heavy-handed, but the true depth of its depravity is left unaddressed, as the book ends before we learn the ramifications of Diana’s decision. As for marriage, we get to see a few, but again, it isn’t developed.

Still, though, this is a nice little read. Bliss is a likable character, and we want her to be happy. We keep reading because we are invested in her, so clearly Susan Fales-Hill did something well in this book. We also care about Victoria and Bella, and even Dario to some degree.

This is a good beach or pool read, so long as you DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. Just read and enjoy.

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