Perfect Life: A Novel

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Overview

In Perfect Life, Jessica Shattuck once again displays her “skewering gift for social commentary” (New York Times) in a uniquely modern chronicle of conception in the age of infinite possibility.
Two years ago, Neil Banks walked into a bathroom in the Pacific Fertility Center to provide his former college girlfriend, Jenny Callahan, with the biological material needed to conceive a child. Becoming a father was not part of the deal: adrift in his postmodern Los Angeles lifestyle, ...

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Perfect Life: A Novel

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Overview

In Perfect Life, Jessica Shattuck once again displays her “skewering gift for social commentary” (New York Times) in a uniquely modern chronicle of conception in the age of infinite possibility.
Two years ago, Neil Banks walked into a bathroom in the Pacific Fertility Center to provide his former college girlfriend, Jenny Callahan, with the biological material needed to conceive a child. Becoming a father was not part of the deal: adrift in his postmodern Los Angeles lifestyle, he signed away all paternity rights. But on the day of the baby’s christening, Neil turns up at the church. His unexpected—and unauthorized—return to Jenny’s privileged East Coast world sends a shockwave through the families of Jenny and her two college roommates—and sets off this keenly observed novel about fertility, biology, love, and American excess.
Elegantly written, Perfect Life asks the perennially daunting question: What is the perfect life? In her smart and timely new novel, Jessica Shattuck tells a story that is humorous and moving, enlightening and life-affirming.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Each of the four fully delineated characters is unique, and their situations clearly reflect their personalities as Shattuck describes their feelings with great accuracy, reveling in the fact that her characters are well educated and reflective people who demonstrate admirable self-awareness. In all, this is an excellent, resonant novel.”
Entertainment Weekly
Shattuck offers a smart, sad rumination on the pursuit of happiness....With elegant prose, Shattuck manages to make her characters' stories feel both engrossing and utterly real.
People
Stylish storytelling and sharp social commentary—on issues ranging from adultery to genetic engineering—make Perfect Life both topical and eminently readable.
People
“Stylish storytelling and sharp social commentary—on issues ranging from adultery to genetic engineering—make Perfect Life both topical and eminently readable.”
Publishers Weekly
Shattuck’s seamless second (after The Hazards of Good Breeding) explores how one woman’s decision to shut the biological father of her child out of her life affects a group of old college pals. Harvard grad Neil Banks isn’t exactly thrilled at having sold out and taken a job that moved him from L.A. to Boston to design the video games he used to review. After his arrival, he happens across Laura, a mutual friend of his and his college sweetheart, Jenny, who got pregnant using Neil’s sperm after her blank-shooting husband couldn’t deliver. As Laura, now unhappily married and the mother of two, and Neil embark on an affair, Neil’s desire to connect with the son he’s never met (and signed away all rights to) grows ever more intense. His chance comes in the form of a sexually voracious rep from Jenny’s pharma company who is working on an antidepressant product-placement deal for a game Neil’s designing. Shattuck does a great job with her characters, and the bizarre situations they find themselves in—Neil particularly—come across as oddly believable. Light humor and breezy prose seal the deal. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Shattuck returns to the moneyed Massachusetts territory explored in The Hazards of Good Breeding (2003). They became friends at Harvard, and now, 15 years later, three of them still reside near it. Jenny, a hotshot marketing executive at Genron Pharmaceuticals, is building a McMansion in Wellesley. Laura does the stay-at-home mom thing with her two daughters-she hardly ever sees mogul husband Mac-in Cambridge. That's also where Elise, a scientist at a lab owned by Genron, lives with her partner Chrissy and their twin sons. Only Neil has wandered away to lead a mysterious, cynical existence in Los Angeles, and when he wanders back to Boston, he is not particularly welcome. Two years ago Jenny approached Neil to be a sperm donor. Her husband Jeremy was infertile, she explained; smart, creative, handsome and healthy Neil seemed like good donor material, and his disinterest in children suited the arrangement Jenny wanted. No one but Laura, Elise and Jeremy would know that Neil was the biological father; he would have no role in the child's life. But then Neil shows up at the baby's christening with some vague notion of being acknowledged, and his presence throws everyone's comfortable habits into question. Shattuck's best creation is Neil. The gifted 22-year-old with all the right questions, the critical eye, the disdain for conformity, is uncomfortably just the same at 35, when all that brilliance smacks of naive narcissism. Working in Boston for a year developing a video game, he begins his passive-aggressive assault by sleeping with Laura and stalking Jenny's year-old baby Colin. Paternity and belonging are the novel's leitmotifs: As Jenny, Jeremy and Neil grapple with the question of whatconstitutes fatherhood, Elise's relationship falters over Chrissy's insistence that their sons meet all the other children produced by inseminations from their sperm donor, whom she calls the boys' "brothers and sisters."Despite some dips into melodrama, a smart consideration of what it means to acquire a family. Author tour to New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393069501
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/3/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Shattuck

Jessica Shattuck is the author of The Hazards of Good Breeding (a New York Times Notable Book and a Winship/PEN Award finalist) and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer, Wired, Mother Jones, and Glamour, among other publications. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Shattuck shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:

"My first job was, honest to God, walking around this big dilapidated public playing field/ park area in Cambridge, MA, picking up garbage with one of those sticks with a little grabber at the end of it. I was in eighth grade and the job was through some sort of city summer jobs program that I'm not sure how I ended up in."

"I have a terrible phobia of birds, and no, I've never seen the movie. Oddly birds do seem to work their way into my fiction in strange ways though."

"I love dogs and have a crazy three year old border collie mix named Winnie who is my daily writing companion."

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    1. Hometown:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 2, 1972
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. Harvard College, 1994; M.F.A. in Writing, Columbia University, 2001

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2009

    Not a Perfect Book

    Although the premise seemed promising, the book failed to deliver. The characters were under-developed. The plot twists were predictable. In the end, I didn't care what happened to these people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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