Sunday, November 18, 2012

Imperfect Bliss

Reality TV— Jane Austen Style Meet the Harcourts of Chevy Chase, Maryland. A respectable middle-class, middle-age, mixed-race couple, Harold and Forsythia have four eminently marriageable daughters—or so their mother believes. Forsythia named her girls after Windsor royals in the hopes that one day each would find her true prince. But princes are far from the mind of their second-born daughter, Elizabeth (AKA Bliss), who, in the aftermath of a messy divorce, has moved back home and thrown herself into earning her PhD. All that changes when a Bachelorette-style reality television show called The Virgin takes Bliss’s younger sister, Diana as its star. Though she fights it at first, Bliss can’t help but be drawn into the romantic drama that ensues; forcing her to reconsider everything she thought she knew about love, her family, and herself. Fresh and engaging, Imperfect Bliss is a wickedly funny take on the ways that courtship and love have changed—even as they've stayed the same.

At first glance some readers may compare Imperfect Bliss to a modern re-make of "Pride and Prejudice," due to the silliness of it all, and because of its noticeable similarities with the Jane Austen classic - strong heroines, men who are not what they seem, meddling parental figures, and romantic twists.  It is indeed somewhat of a parody - both of Jane Austen's world and of a more contemporary one.

 In this humorous tale, Susan managers to cover everything from the pressure from families to 'marry well', to bouncing back from divorce.  In addition, the book addresses the ridiculousness behind Reality TV and its impact on family, relationships and society.  Imperfect Bliss is basically an aged-old case of a mother wanting to live vicariously through her children - while pretending to be more than she is, while pushing her daughters to marry at any cost - as long as they marry someone with money and a title that is. 

The storyline of Imperfect Bliss explores three separate love triangles that revolve around the three oldest Harcourt daughters.  Diana is smothered with rich admirers while in reality only two men really catch her eye.  Victoria, the eldest, is torn between marrying the man her mother approves of and a secret forbidden lover.  Lastly, Bliss is tempted by Wyatt, the charming and witty TV host, and Dario, the aloof but caring executive producer.  And then there's Charlotte, the youngest of the four sisters, who desperately tries to steal the spot light with her less than lady-like demeanor. 

At the center of the story is Bliss Harcourt – hence the title Imperfect Bliss. Bliss is a head strong, divorced mother of four-year-old Bella, living at home with her parents.  After her failed marriage, she returned to graduate school in hopes of becoming a professor, and finally moving away from her controlling mother – who fantasizes about infiltrating the British throne.  She finds the antics of her over-bearing mother less than admirable and even deplorable at times, although she may not respect her mother's twisted thinking of living whitely ever after - she loves her Mum; because in the end, Forsythia loved her to the point of self-abasement.   However, prior to Bliss being able to come to such a profound enlighten assessment of her mother’s parental love and self sacrifice; Bliss's imperfect life is turned upside down by her sister, Diana, and her sudden TV fame as the star of the reality TV show "The Virgin" with a shameless tagline of: ‘where wealthy men compete to capture her heart, hand in marriage, and hymen.’   While Bliss and her father are horrified as well as offended that Diana’s chastity will be auctioned for television ratings, Diana and Forsythia are ecstatic beyond belief. Yet, as entertaining as it may appear, the foolishness of the reality TV show is basically the sub-plot to the real plot, which is Bliss’ reluctance to allow true love into her life.   

With an ideal balance of humor, wit and important social commentary, Susan Fales-Hill's Imperfect Bliss is sure to be a reading staple on bedside tables everywhere.

Imperfect Bliss l by Susan Fales-Hill
Genre: Dramatic Humor
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: July 3, 2012
Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

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