Imperfect Bliss is Pride and Prejudice with a contemporary American update. I loved it. The main character, Bliss (short for Elizabeth) Harcourt, has just moved back home following a painful and messy divorce, bringing her sweet (and physically disabled) child with her. She’s just trying to pull her life back together and carve a little bit of peace out of the chaos. Then her sister Diana agrees to be the star of a Bachelor-like reality TV drama, which puts Bliss and all her family in the spotlight. If you know Pride and Prejudice, you know that colossal embarrassment and ruin are bound to follow. Meanwhile, Bliss deals with the odious Dario Fuentes, executive producer of her sister’s reality show, and the charming Wyatt Evers, the host. (Guess which one is Darcy and which one is Wickham?) All of this while finishing her Ph.D. at Georgetown.
While some reviewers may disagree with me, I think Imperfect Bliss has plenty of the delightful things about Austen’s work– dramatic tension, dancing, awkward social encounters and egregious breaches of decorum, and, YES, a love story– and adds issues we’re all familiar with in 2012. Fales-Hill’s cast is multiracial (as in, there are many people of many different races, as well as having many characters who are more than one race), a long overdue addition to Austen homages. This book also deals with divorce, single parenting, female empowerment, the ethical quagmire of reality TV, coming out, and, oh yeah, falling in love. Some readers may feel like there is too much going on in this novel, too many side stories, too many red herrings, and it’s true that Imperfect Bliss isn’t just a love story. But it is a story that deals fully and completely with how messy and complicated love can be.
The characters in this book were charming, maddening, eccentric, and fully-realized. I rolled my eyes at Bliss’ mother and wanted to slap Diana. I loved sweet Jane and distant Harold. Fales-Hill does a really admirable job of making these characters recognizable from Pride and Prejudice while also making them her own. They are believable and delightful (even when I despise their choices). I enjoyed the resolution of this novel, which was swift but appropriate. I liked Jane’s self-discovery (we’ll call it– I don’t want to give anything away), which I’d been alternately predicting and fearing since her character was first introduced. It ended up being believable and consistent with her character (which is reticent, shy, humble, and slow to act– and also awkward with men), and therefore appropriate to the story.
Some readers may feel like this book is too liberal, while some may feel like it is not liberal enough. Interestingly, this is a theme that Bliss herself worries about herself– she resists the fairytale metanarrative while secretly hoping that true love really does exist. I think that’s a familiar dynamic for many women today. Overall, I thought this was a great novel. It’s not perfect, but then, no one can be Austen except Austen. It was still a really fun read– sometimes nail-biting, sometimes amusing, sometimes sad. It just goes to show that sometimes really smart women can be really dumb about relationships. If you’re into romances or love stories, here’s one worth picking up.
PS I received this book as part of Atria’s Galley Alley Giveaway. They didn’t specifically ask for a review, but obviously I’ve written one anyway. 🙂