Published by Ecco
Publication date: January 24th 2017
On Monday I wrote about Swimming Lessons, a novel with prose that evinced an emotional response from me, even when the story did not work so well. Today’s review is about a book that is almost the complete opposite. It’s unusual for me to like fiction that didn’t impact me emotionally, but I did with Kevin Wilson’s new novel, Perfect Little World. I was devoid of much of a reaction beyond intellectual curiosity about the premise—and that was enough.
Dr. Preston Grind is a child psychologist and the son of two child psychologists who used him as their only test subject in their largest experiment. They were determined to devise the antidote to what we know as helicopter/special snowflake parenting. Instead, Preston was exposed, from a very young age, to a childhood of instability and difficulty. The love his parents had for him was never in question nor was he abused, but they exposed him to situations that most parents would avoid. The premise was to mimic the adult world of conflict and disappointment, thereby preparing him for it better than children who have been coddled and sheltered from any adversity. Their method would seem to be sound except that now, as an adult, Grind writes about a kind of parenting his parents would have abhorred: the ‘it takes a village’ model.
When Grind meets Brenda Acklen, the billionaire widow of the founder of a chain of cheap big box stores, he’s able to bring his plans for a community model of parenting to life. Brenda wants to fund the project because she and her husband were raised in an orphanage and she believes that the love and care of the group environment was the best upbringing possible. A self-contained compound is built on 450 acres near La Vergne, TN with housing for ten families—all about to become first time parents and all with some particular issue that would make raising a child without help difficult. Grinds has nine couples, but instead of the tenth he chooses, Izzy, a high school graduate who’s discovered she’s pregnant with her art teacher’s child.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a novel about a free love commune or some weird sci-fi setup, it’s not. The only way in which Wilson takes the easy way out in Perfect Little World is with money. Brenda Acklen’s money—which is unlimited and unconditional, meaning that the world Grind creates is utopian in its efforts to care for its subjects. Everything is new and state-of-the-art, there is a fulltime staff of doctors, teachers, psychologists, nurses…anyone who might be needed to interact with the children and their parents. The twist is that the children will be raised by all of the parents. From the time they are born each one is held, cared for, loved, scolded, taught by every adult. Only when they reach the age of five do they learn who their biological parents are. The experiment will then continue until they are ten.
Of course, utopia doesn’t make for interesting reading. Nineteen adults, ten children, psychology and human emotion do and Wilson uses each to great effect. As I mentioned at the beginning, I didn’t finish Perfect Little World feeling a lot, but I was still thinking about the book days later. Everything about it is intriguing, mostly because of Wilson’s thoughtful, humanist approach. There is nothing gimmicky in the plot, just an unusual fictional idea for a non-fictional issue—how best to raise children in the modern world. This is not to say that the novel is a treatise or reads like a textbook. No. Perfect Little World is entertaining and enjoyable fiction; a novel I’d recommend for a book clubs because it lends itself to a lot of discussion and opinions.