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Perfect Is Overrated
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Perfect Is Overrated

4.3 6
by Karen Bergreen

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Think you want to be the perfect mom? Think again…..

Kate Alger has finally found the cure for her post-partum depression. After years of suffering, all it takes to bring this mommy back to life were a few gruesome homicides! When someone starts offing the alpha-moms from Kate's daughter's preschool, Kate—who worked as an Assistant District


Think you want to be the perfect mom? Think again…..

Kate Alger has finally found the cure for her post-partum depression. After years of suffering, all it takes to bring this mommy back to life were a few gruesome homicides! When someone starts offing the alpha-moms from Kate's daughter's preschool, Kate—who worked as an Assistant District Attorney before she had Molly—realizes it's time to get out of bed, dust off the skills and find out who is killing all the mommies she loves to hate.

Wickedly funny and slightly twisted, Perfect Is Overrated is a romp through the life of one very needy mom, her cockeyed family, gorgeous ex-husband, and the entire insane, entitled, over-dressed , over-zealous, eternally jealous parent body at The Hawthorne Preschool.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A killer stalks preschool moms in former attorney and standup comic Bergreen’s clever whodunit. Kate Alger was a brilliant assistant district attorney with a perfect marriage and adorable baby daughter, until postpartum depression left her unable to work and ended her marriage. Though she once brought criminals to justice, her biggest challenges now are the snobby moms at four-year-old Molly’s prestigious Upper East Side preschool. When one of the mothers is murdered, Kate’s depression lifts. Her old ADA instincts return, and she’s even more intrigued when she discovers that her detective ex-husband is on the case. But when a second mom is killed, Kate kicks her investigation into high gear—if she doesn’t, she may be next. In Bergreen’s (Following Polly) twist-filled sendup of upper-crust New York City parents, she leaves a vivid but not blindingly obvious trail of clues leading to the murderer, punctuated with black humor from a wickedly funny narrator. The suspense is dampened by zany banter, and characters are distressingly unconcerned that people are actually dying, but readers will be wildly guessing until the end. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Literary. (July)
From the Publisher

“Here are a few things Karen Bergreen knows about: mothers you love to hate, sexy exes, the drill (and charm) of hanging out with little kids. Perfect Is Overrated throws all of it into the wash cycle and suds it up with humor and warmth. If you read it, you'll recommend it, too!” —Molly Jong-Fast, author of The Social Climbers Handbook

Perfect is Overrated is such a fast, fizzy, fun read! Buy one for yourself and six more for the other moms in the pickup line, then decide which mom you'd take with you if stuck on a deserted island. For me, she'd have to love mascara and be witty.” —Kelly Killoren Bensimon, author of I Can Make You Hot!

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Perfect is Overrated

A Novel

By Karen Bergreen

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Karen Bergreen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0191-2


I emerge from my depression the moment I learn of Beverly Hastings's death. She's not just dead. She's been murdered. Someone, apparently, liked her even less than I did.

I get out of bed, where I have been spending way too much time. And alone, at that. I turn the volume up on the television. A reporter is standing outside Beverly's East Side town house, and cops are everywhere.

"Very little is known about the murder of Beverly Hastings. Police are withholding what appear to be gruesome details."

Gruesome details. I perk up even more.

"I just feel sorry for the child." An older woman identified as Sarah, Beverly's neighbor, is speaking.

I, too, feel sorry for the child, but on the bright side, Bitsy will never again have to wear bloomers.

I unravel my Disney princess comforter — Molly's actually, as mine has been in the laundry for two months — and start looking for the telephone. I haven't used it in days, a lingering by-product of my acute, protracted depression. It's not in the cradle. My apartment, once a masterwork of cleanliness and organization, is now a prime example of college-dorm-style disarray. I straighten Paul's old NYPD sweatshirt and pick up the jeans that I left on the floor after returning to bed this morning. Then I shuffle from my lightless bedroom into the kitchen, which owes its brightness to the building's architect rather than to any feat of mine. I realize I'm wearing one sneaker.

After I had returned home from dropping my daughter at school, I'd cleared off the counters, pleased that I had chosen a dark marble to hide the stains and grime. The dishes, Molly's octopus bowl and cup, to be specific, are still in the sink, and so, apparently, is the phone. Please, battery, don't be out. I promise to recharge you every day from now on. It works. I dial a number that is more familiar than my home phone.

Voice mail. I could have predicted that. "You've reached Detective Paul Alger. Leave a message."

"Paul, it's me." I do my best to sound conversational. Although frankly, mere murder is nothing next to the rage I feel every time I hear the dulcet tones of my ex-husband. "Could you call me when you have a sec? Thanks."

I put the phone back in its cradle as promised, and it starts to ring.

"Katie, is everything okay?"

"Oh, yeah. Molly's fine, I'm fine. I should have said it wasn't an emergency, but do you know anything about this Beverly Hastings murder?"


"I don't believe you."

"Then why did you ask?"

"I did it for Molly."

Slightly energized, I scrub my daughter's octopus bowl as I talk.

"Molly doesn't even know Beverly."

"Not true, they have met a few times. And she does know Bitsy."

"But they're not friends."

"They're four. At this age, they're all friends."

"You know I can't say anything, Katie."

"I know."

"You're sure you're okay?" He's convinced that I'll never be okay.

"Truly, I am." Truly I am. In fact, I'm sweeping. "I'll drop Molly off later."


He's trying to be familiar, but I hang up in lieu of partaking in our old routine.

I will never forgive him. He makes my skin crawl. But we share a daughter.

And, he's gotta know something.

* * *

I met Paul Alger in the Eleventh Precinct when I was an assistant district attorney and he was a homicide detective, first grade. It was Christmastime. I was picking up a file from a junior officer, and I grabbed a chocolate Santa from a bowl on his desk.

"Committing petit larceny in a police station?"

I heard a rich, low voice behind me and turned around. Standing there was the most handsome man I had ever seen — excluding television and movies. He had dark, wavy hair, olive skin, light brown eyes, and a large but lean build. Like in a scene in a Greek tragedy, I heard what sounded like a Delphic voice say, You are going to marry this man.

"Excuse me?" I said to both the man and the crazy voice in my head.

"You are stealing items from that individual's desk. Technically, that's a petit larceny."

"Technically, it's the holiday season and a dish of candy is everyone's property." It didn't sound convincing, so I added, "There's legal precedent."

"Legal precedent, huh?" He winked at me. "I'm giving you a verbal warning now, but if I catch you stealing any more sweets, I'm not going to let you off so easily."

I smiled. I also perused the room for another bowl of candy before leaving the building.

A few days later, I attended the precinct Christmas party, the kind of social event I typically dreaded. Everybody was either on call and downing Diet Coke, or overdoing it on soured beer and ecru cheese cubes. Inevitably, the holiday colloquy transformed into tales of career conquests. I often ate these up, but that night I found myself looking for something else — namely, the handsome, aggressive cop. Strictly a pantsuit lawyer, I had dusted off a dress that morning, a formfitting, black Tahari number that, along with an impressively high-heeled pair of jet suede sling-backs, gave me the slice of femininity called for under the circumstances.

I had gotten to the party early, careful to stake out a piece of cheddar, a place to stand, and a glass of wine. Detective Ken Sawicki, a stocky, balding cop with big blue eyes and pale, pale skin, offered to get me another drink, but then held it hostage in his drying, fleshy hands until he finished this year's telling of arresting the mayor's kid for shoplifting a pack of watermelon Bubblicious. Don't get me wrong. I love hearing a good war story, especially from a cop, but he could do better than gum.

I nodded politely to Sawicki, attempting telepathically to make him hand over the Sauvignon Blanc.

And then he walked in.

"Alger," Sawicki screamed to him, lifting his glass as if to toast while mine lay limply in his other hand, "merry, merry. What can I get you?"

"I'll have what she's having," Paul said, taking my glass out of Sawicki's fingers and handing it to me.

"Minus the story," I whispered under my breath.

"Paul Alger." He stuck out his hand.

He was even more alluring than I had remembered, and he clearly hadn't dolled himself up for the occasion. In a fraying white oxford shirt and khaki pants, he was the best-looking man in the room. I studied him more carefully. Chocolate hair and striking, if asymmetric, cheekbones offset his amber eyes. He wore an expression that suggested an imminent wealth of emotion, which upgraded him from merely attractive to mesmerizing.

"Kate Hagen."

"Kate? As in Kiss Me, Kate?" He paused for a second. "I bet you never heard that before."

"It's a first from a cop."

"He's no ordinary cop," Sawicki said. "He's a crime fighter."

"Do you wear a leotard?" I couldn't resist.

"Only when I'm working undercover." Paul Alger was still holding my hand.

"Gotta love Paul," Sawicki declared.

I already did.

"It would be fun to work together." I sounded, I'm not proud to admit, like a fourth-grader looking for a school-project buddy.

"My thoughts exactly," Paul agreed. "Let's get out of here."

* * *

I'm switching the channels desperate for some Hastings coverage. News trucks with satellite dishes are parked outside the East Sixty-fourth Street town house. Cops are weaving in and around the slew of reporters. I look for a familiar face.

Neighbors are weighing in on the murder.

"We're just baffled," remarks a bespectacled man in a bow tie.

"It just goes to show you," another explains.

I notice that the news crew haven't produced anybody to publicly mourn Beverly.

* * *

I first met Beverly Hastings about two years ago, when we were trying to get Molly into the Hawthorne Preschool. I had long since heard the lore about applying early. Some Manhattan parents believed that the firm deadline for applications to New York's top three preschools, Hawthorne being number one, was the second trimester of pregnancy. Others emphasized the dual imperative of a huge cash donation and a recommendation from a Nobel laureate. Rejection meant a life of homeschooling and a college degree from the Internet.

"Ignore the nonsense and apply," Peg, my former boss, mentor, and best friend, chided. "How many people know a Nobel laureate? Not only do I not know a Nobel laureate, but I don't think I know anybody who knows one."

Peg, in her mid-fifties, looks forty-two. To be fair, she looked forty-two when she was twenty-seven, and she'll look forty-two at ninety-five. She has long, undyed brown hair, which she habitually wears in a low ponytail folded into a bun, and she almost always wears a clingy wrap dress that emphasizes her thinness rather than stirring up prurient desires.

"I actually do know one," I confessed. "Albert Brettschneider, my college chemistry professor, won it three years ago."

"Okay, Ms. Smarty-Pants. Get the chemistry teacher to call the preschool."

It did sound ridiculous. Peg had a way of putting things in perspective for me. She was sitting, as she always did during these biweekly visits, in the kitchen nook, making full use of our banquette. In return for her company, I'm expected to whip out the cappuccino maker she got me for my wedding and give her as many cups of foamy coffee as she desires. Just as former heroin addicts become doughnut devotees when they go cold turkey, Peg developed her caffeine dependence in 1991, when she finally stopped smoking two packs a day.

"And if Molly doesn't get in, what's the worst that could happen?"

Peg and I had had this discussion before. Paul and I wanted Molly to go to Hawthorne so that she could get into one of the top private schools in New York. Peg thought it was all nonsense.

"My kids went to public school their whole lives and it didn't hurt them at all." Peg, the daughter of two relentless union organizers, had shown remarkable restraint in this discussion.

Boy, was she right. Her older son, David, was enjoying his Fulbright in Ghana, and her younger son, Matthew, was about to enter Yale Law School. Both of them were products of New York City public schools.

Secretly I agreed with Peg, but Paul's parents are consumed with Molly's getting the best education possible and are willing to pay for it. Not what people would expect from a cop's parents, but Paul's life hasn't followed a predictable path.

"Peg, you are aware, are you not, that your kids have inherited your superhero genes?" "True, but your gene pool isn't so bad either. Apply. Ignore the talk. Molly will be fine. She has you as a mother."

"That's what I'm worried about."

On Peg's urgings, I sent Molly's applications to three of New York's top-rated preschools.

"And the Emily Dickinson look may not work with these people, so before you go for your school interview, you might want to take a walk or a run or something. Gray may be in this year, but not in skin tone. Buy a dress or some shoes."

"I get it, Peg."

"Some of these schools are in a church. You don't want them redirecting you to the food bank."

"I get it."

Peg was the only person who understood my mental state. Despite her anti-elitist leanings, she knew that my applying for schools was a sign that I had graduated from the ocean-floor depths of my noxious depression to my current state of somewhat functional dysthymia.

But I had lost a husband in the process.

* * *

Beverly Hastings had been sitting across from me on a wooden bench in the austere waiting area outside Hawthorne's office of admissions. The walls, which needed another coat of wintergreen paint, were bare, except for a portrait of Ledyard Webster Wheeling Hawthorne. He could have been the twin of Rutherford B. Hayes, Molly's current commander in chief of choice from her Meet-the-Presidents place mat. The portrait of Hawthorne had been painted in 1879, the year he commissioned the preschool. It was well-known that Ledyard himself had nothing to do with the school. His wife, Katherine, was concerned that her five children, living in an urban and privileged environment, would grow lazy by age four. She developed a detailed curriculum integrating the social urban experience of young people with physical activity. Within ten years, she had hired several tutors to teach her progeny, extended family members, and acquaintances with similar social credentials.

Considered by many to be the supreme preschool in all of New York, the school boasts the highest percentage of admissions to New York City's most prestigious private schools. They also claim to have the most impressive college admissions in the country. One would be hard-pressed to find many institutions with the financial resources to embark on a research project tracking the long-term education of their five-year-olds.

"Here, Bitsy."

I thought Beverly Hastings, as I later learned her name to be, had brought the family dog on an interview. Then she pulled out an iPod and headphones and planted them on the little girl's head.

"Bitsy loves Rachmaninoff," Beverly informed me as she tucked a handful of her freshly cut-and-colored vanilla bob behind her ear only to reveal a gold shell earring.

She probably likes wearing the headphones so she doesn't have to listen to Mommy, I could almost hear Paul quipping. Thankfully, though, he had called me just as I was entering the building to say that an emergency had arisen and he wouldn't make the interview, yet another thing he had failed to make. His presence would have been nerve-racking, since we had just separated. I didn't know if I could hide my post-betrayal indignation and Paul's permanent state of stunned despair from Miss Margaret Talbott, Hawthorne's director of admissions and fund-raising. Admissions people can sense strife.

"You must be so proud," I said as I straightened my dress.

I had pulled out the old Tahari winner for the occasion. Upon Peg's urging, I had applied a coat of berry lipstick she pretended to accidentally leave on my kitchen table. I even found a five-year-old working mascara, which I'm sure was breeding high amounts of contagious bacteria, in the old black leather purse I brought with me to the interview. Beverly wasn't listening to me.

"Bitsy, Bitsy, Bitsy," she trilled, "do you want some hummus?"

Bitsy shook her large head no.

Molly, who had been intrigued by the both of them from the moment we had arrived, was inspired by the sight of food. She ambled right over to Bitsy's mother, hopeful that she might be offered a little taste.

"She's not sick, is she?" Bitsy's mother accused. "Bitsy doesn't like germs."

Before I could answer, Beverly addressed Molly. "The hummus is for Bitsy, dear." She straightened out her plaid Burberry tunic, which matched the one worn by her little girl.

I distracted my daughter with some old saltines that had been sitting in my purse since her days as an embryo.

Bitsy's mother stared at me. "Ooh, you do salt?" Then she turned to her charge. "Bitsy, sweetie. Mommy is going to help Bitsy out of her stroller. And then Bitsy can give Mommy a kiss. Mommy loves Bitsy."

Bitsy threw up all over her mother.

Molly took the second saltine out of its plastic wrap and handed it to the little girl.

* * *

Once Paul and I were out of the precinct, he put his arm around me and drew me in. Neither of us said anything.

As we walked up Sixty-seventh Street toward Park Avenue, I was determined to speak. "It got even colder outsi —"

Before I could finish my sentence, Paul was pulling me even closer. I wanted to tell him that maybe we should take a walk or share a conversation before we exchanged saliva, but I was the person doing most of the kissing. There we were, yards away from our colleagues, making out like teenagers. A voice in my head was demanding that I stop. I was about to assert myself when Paul started kissing my neck.

"Maybe we should have a conversation first." For the record, Paul made the suggestion.

"Do you have a preferred topic?"

"I'm fairly certain we will be getting married."

I was relieved that he'd had that eerie feeling as well and replied, "To each other? Otherwise you are just relying on statistical probabilities."

"I'm not relying on statistical probabilities."

We were still planted outside the Park Avenue Armory, an ambitious nineteenth-century urban fortress. Paul waved down a cab. "Any objections to going downtown?" "That's what you cops say when you are arresting someone."

"My precinct is here."

"Downtown it is."

Once in the cab, Paul and I continued not to talk, but we didn't make out either. We just sat there, his large, warm hands holding mine, both of us feeling that something important was happening. The cabdriver stayed on Park Avenue. On one side, the islands of Christmas trees sparkled in the cold, still night. On the other, an endless row of office buildings remained partially lit to support the smattering of after-hours workers.

Paul kissed me as we rolled through the MetLife Building underpass in the mid-Forties. Right after we emerged, he pulled away and squeezed my hand more tightly. Park Avenue was uncharacteristically empty: a response to the arctic chill that was hampering everyone's holiday plans. But after we passed Union Square and started heading east, the streets were filled with intrepid revelers.

At the corner of Second Avenue and Ninth Street, Paul instructed the driver to stop. He jumped out and handed him some cash. He led me into a compact Italian restaurant, the kind with red-checkered tablecloths and single carnations in the water glasses in the middle of each table. The New York Times would never deign to review this kind of restaurant, but it would always be filled with customers keen for a hearty Bolognese or anything Parmesan.

They seemed to know Paul. A few of them were hugging and kissing him, while others shifted the wobbly wooden tables around so that we could sit in the corner and eat our dinner.


Excerpted from Perfect is Overrated by Karen Bergreen. Copyright © 2012 Karen Bergreen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

KAREN BERGREEN's first career was as an attorney who clerked for a federal judge. Her second career as a stand-up comic has led to appearances not in front of the bench, but on Comedy Central, the Oxygen network, Court TV and Law&Order. She lives in New York City.
KAREN BERGREEN's first career was as an attorney who clerked for a federal judge. Her second career as a stand-up comic has led to appearances not in front of the bench, but on Comedy Central, the Oxygen network, Court TV and Law&Order. She is the author of Following Polly and Perfect Is Overrated. She lives in New York City

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Perfect Is Overrated 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Lilac_Wolf More than 1 year ago
Karen's writing is conversational, her characters are charming and deep. You get to know Kate really well, and through her all the people in her life. As a person who battles depression, I can say that Karen did a great job capturing the feelings and the actions. While she gets it together to take care of her daughter, she doesn't get it together for much else. So as she starts coming out of her deep depression, it's funny how Karen throws in a detail here or there about something that was left undone for too long. And this is a mystery, so you follow Kate as she collects evidence and tries to find out who the murderer is. I will say, you won't see it coming. I had a hard time putting it down, but the last 20 pages had me so griped I ended up letting my children stay up too late just so I could finish it! You never know if the 2nd book will be just as good as the first, or if a person just had the one good story. I will now say that Karen Bergreen is a favorite author, and this was even BETTER than Following Polly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Average in every way- plot, character development, etc. The ending is surprising but a little forced. The conflicts all get resolved, with everything wrapped in a neat little bow. Not something I'll ever read again or recommend, though it was mildly amusing while it lasted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lydd wrote this
Cadfnp More than 1 year ago
This book showcases the trials and tribulations of a mother, in high society, with an unbelievable twist!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I shall start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed Perfect is Overrated by Karen Bergreen (“comedian, author, stressed-out mom”). The writing was intelligent, laugh-out-loud funny, and tragic in parts, the murder mystery keeps you guessing. Perfect is Overrated offered something for everyone, which can be a very dangerous venture. Thankfully, with very few bumps in the road, lawyer-cum-comedian-cum-author Ms. Bergreen pulls this off handily. So rather than start this review with a synopsis of narrative, I would like to begin by saying that this book is artfully written and is a very satisfying read. Observations are biting, and other times poignant, always intelligent, and occasionally just downright delightful. Characters range from realistic to archetypical. And that's okay. This book is more than the sum of its parts. Anyone who was expecting a straightforward narrative should read another book. Okay, now here's the story We have Kate, lawyer, mother, struggling alternatively with post-partum depression, divorce, and an insatiable curiosity as to who is murdering society mothers whose children attend the same privileged preschool as Kate's daughter Molly. Among the victims: the judgmental and overly solicitous Beverly Hastings whose four-year-old Bitsy “shows a zeal for gouache”, and the animal-hating Phillipa Von Eck (or "Von Ick" as she is often called) among her collection of authentic samurai swords. As these mothers are being murdered, each in a different fashion, Kate regains interest in life outside her walls. She begins conducting a slow, sometimes paranoid (although one may also argue Kate is excellent at pattern recognition) investigation of her own, sometimes to disastrous and/or humorous effect. Through this investigation the genesis of her depression and subsequent divorce is woven. We have a delicious distraction named Steve. If nothing else, this micro-fluid studying doctoral candidate currently teaching preschool science at the hallowed halls of the exclusive Hawthorne School is an exquisite diversion for Kate who hasn't had a romp in the hay in quite some time and finally indulges, much to the chagrin of Kate’s omnipresent ex-husband, and homicide detective Paul who is investigating aforementioned murders. Maybe Steve’s the killer, maybe he isn't. We have wonderfully drawn secondary and tertiary characters ranging from snobbish, potentially homicidal society mothers, to former colleagues, to a best friend Miriam who lovingly donates her size 4 “fat clothes” to our poorly shod protagonist. These narratives are inextricably woven: Kate's deeply personal journey; the murders; and an occasional and delightful excursus on the Manhattan Über Mom scene. These weighty narratives slide in and out artfully with the comedy, although there are a few moments where they were more a bug than a feature. The humour, the intelligence, and polished prose more than compensate for these ruptures in narrative suture. I read this book in the way one eats a delicious meal: on the one hand this meal is so good that you devour as quickly as you might, on the other, you wish to slow down and savour so that the meal does not end. I look forward to Ms. Bergreen’s next book.
emneilsen1 More than 1 year ago
Karen Bergreen's second book is just as good as her first (Following Polly). The characters seem very real to me and the mystery is filled with twists and turns. I love the Stephanie Plum type and this book is BETTER than that and so very well written. I'd recommend it for anyone who is looking for a fun, interesting read. I really can't wait for her next book . . .and this one just came out.