How Perfect Is That

How Perfect Is That

by Sarah Bird
How Perfect Is That

How Perfect Is That

by Sarah Bird


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Sarah Bird takes on Austin high society in this critically acclaimed, hilarious comedy of manners in which a newly divorced heroine eventually comes to realize what matters most in life.

In social satirist Sarah Bird’s seventh novel, Blythe Young is happily immersed in Austin society after she marries Trey Biggs–Dix, naively signing a strict prenuptial agreement insisted upon by her mother-in-law. But when that same mother-in-law lands a better catch for her son ten years later, Blythe, now thirty-three and childless, is unceremoniously dumped. Penniless, desperate, but determined, Blythe finds herself taking refuge at Seneca House, the housing co-op where she lived a decade ago in college. There she encounters her old college roommate, the sweet Millie Ott, one of the many friends Blythe shucked off during a frenzy of social climbing.

Before long, Blythe comes face to face with her past sins and dubious moral choices, and under the unlikely tutelage of Millie, the eternal optimist, Blythe is finally able to discover the path to real happiness. Combining the wicked humor of David Sedaris with the hip, trendy style of Lauren Weisberger, this fast-paced, and sharply observed tale is a comic triumph of a novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439123089
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 07/07/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 884,752
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Sarah Bird lives with her family in Austin, Texas, where she performs her own material regularly at the Hyde Park Theatre. She is the author of eleven books, including The Flamenco Academy and The Yokota Officers Club.

Read an Excerpt

April 3, 2003

4:15 a.m.

Four-fifteen in the morning is the perfect time to catalog the one commodity I am still rich in: regrets. I keep trying to pare that lengthy list down to a manageably brief inventory of everything I failed to acquire during marriage to a scion of one of America's wealthiest dynasties. Over the past few months, I have smelted a King Solomon's mine of lost swag down to the few basics I most regret either not obtaining or not hanging on to:

1. A husband

2. A home

3. A Pap smear

I've added and removed "4. Children" from the list several times. Currently, they are off.

Recently I've also started to regret christening myself Blythe Young. I picked the name at the end of my sophomore year at Abilene High School. It was an improvement over the one my mother had saddled me with, Chanterelle Young. I was tired of being taken for either an exotic dancer or, far worse, exactly what I was, the daughter of a trailer-trash tramp of a mother too stupid to know that in her single, solitary moment of maternal lyricism she had named her only child after a mushroom.

Eighteen years later, however, instead of blithe and young, I feel burdened and every day of my thirty-three years. What I am is divorced, desperate, and currently clinging frantically to a very tenuous toehold here in Bamsie Beiver's historically significant carriage house. Although Bamsie redid the main house in meticulous turn-of-the-century detail for maximum "authenticity" and "tax benefits," my abode never received such tender ministrations. Renovations on the carriage house appear to have started and stopped once the horse turds were swept out.

The sky lightens to a clotted gray signaling that no matter how much I might wish otherwise a new day is dawning. I brace myself for the next item on the chronic insomniac's agenda: an elaborate road trip revisiting all the points in my life where I took disastrously wrong turns. First up, the prenup. I put the prenup on hold, since it is more than a wrong turn; that damned prenup is its own entire journey of the damned with an itinerary drawn up by my former mother-in-law, Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, known more generally as Peggy Biggs-Dix. Peggy ruined my life. Without her I would still be Mrs. Henry "Trey" Biggs-Dix the Third, mistress of Pemberton Palace. I would still be sleeping on Frette sheets, numbered like works of art, and thick and dense as deep sleep itself. I would still be breathing in air that smelled of lavender, eucalyptus, and the kind of clean that only generations of really dirty money can buy. Without Peggy, I wouldn't be where I am now, huddled in Bamsie's dank carriage house, staring down bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy? Who am I kidding? I was bankrupt when I married Trey. I believed he would rescue me. But his succubus of a mother sliced my oxygen hose and left me gasping on the ocean floor. No, it is what lurks beyond bankruptcy that is so terrifying. I forbid myself to burrow into this rathole any farther. My future will be decided today. So, although the lengthy list of things I would rather be doing than coordinating Kippie Lee's garden party would lead off with "Anything" and finish up with "Gum surgery," I have no choice. One, just one, just one healthy check, could keep me alive long enough to regroup and come back to fight another day.

In another city. Under another name.

Kippie Lee's check is my last, rapidly fading hope for staying out of debtor's prison. The words "debtor's prison" fill my mind with images from A Rake's Progress. Wastrels in powdered wigs despoiling themselves at the gaming tables. Blowsy slatterns in mobcaps with beauty marks painted over syphilitic sores. Grand ladies in Marie Antoinette wigs amusing themselves by gawking at the debt-maddened lunatics imprisoned in Bedlam. The vision is highly motivating.

It is do-or-die time. Failure is not an option. Semper Fi.

Already imagining I have Kippie Lee's check, I prioritize my list of creditors into Vultures and Jackals. Vultures--my unpaid employees, the IRS, inattentive suppliers--won't attack until I've stopped moving. I can let them wait. The Jackals, on the other hand--Sprint, Visa, American Express, MasterCard, Loan Sharks 'R' Us--are already nipping at my hindquarters with their massive, wildebeest-thigh-crushing jaws. This pack will have to be seen to first. I plan to scatter precisely enough dollars in the path of the Jackals to make them unlock their cruel masseters and release my gluteals. That will give me some breathing room.

Thus bolstered, I struggle to clear my mind and fall back to sleep. Instead, the hamsters on their wheels turn even faster. They pull me back, all the way back to the day when I met Henry "Trey" "Tree Tree" "Double T" Biggs-Dix the Third. Back to the beginning of the end.

I met Trey shortly after the dot-com bubble burst and I was in financial free fall owing to the first incarnation of Wretched Xcess, Event Coordination Extraordinaire, going belly-up. Wretched Xcess was not just the name of my business but the encapsulation of an entire zeitgeist as manifested in Austin, Texas. Lord, that was a heady time when too much was never enough and the clever boys in their backward caps, Teva sandals, and cargo shorts could not burn through their venture capital fast enough. Excess, that's what my clever boys wanted and that's what I provided.

Drunk with the rest of the country at the vast money kegger thrown by the venture capitalists, I expanded to meet the needs of my ever-more-demanding clientele. Though the Bubble Boys were still padding around in flip-flops, they could tell their beluga from their osetra. And, in every case, they wanted the beluga. They also wanted the titanium chafing dishes, the Baccarat crystal, and the tablecloths with a four-digit thread count embroidered by French nuns that I felt forced to acquire. High-end all the way. Leveraged to the max. That was when I should have worried. But I had fallen under the spell of my bright boys. We were rewriting the laws of trade and were all going to retire by the age of thirty-four. Thirty-three at the latest. Working was for chumps. We would float together forever on the bubble that had already lofted us so much higher than we could have ever dreamed.

And then?


A bubble. Yes, I could have dealt with a bubble. But did it have to be filled with deadly swamp gas?

We all fell. Just some of us, weighted down with titanium chafing dishes and tablecloths heavy as rugs, hit significantly harder than those who'd pulled rip cords on parachutes in varying hues of gold. Or who'd simply moved into Mom's garage. Mom's garage was never an option for me, since my mother was herself living in a garage. Griz's Hawg Heaven Harley Garage to be exact, owned by her "old man."

Vicki Jo keeps in touch by sending photos taken while she is "riding bitch" on the back of a chromed-out Harley-Davidson, piloted by Griz himself, whom Mom proudly describes as "a 1%er Outlaw Bandido thru and thru." In most of the photos, Vicki Jo is hiking up her top to reveal the bouncing maternal mammaries tanned to a rich, beef-jerky brown. I have to give Vicki Jo this: She has great tits for a woman her age and could almost pass for the thirty-nine she claims. At least when her very inconvenient thirty-three-year-old daughter isn't around. As for Griz, imagine a circus bear riding a motorcycle. Now stick a Nazi helmet atop its sloping head, give it a wallet on a chain, and there you had my mother's paramour.

Yes, my mother is a biker chick. Vicki Jo warned me early and often that mothering was not her "bag." My father had promised to do all the raising if Vicki Jo would handle the birthing. Mom couldn't help but feel she'd been welshed on when her husband died of a heart attack shortly after "the kid" was born. Making the best of a bad deal, my mother got a "shitty-ass, monkey fuck of a job" with the phone company and grudgingly kept me in sneakers and Clearasil for the next sixteen years with periodic memos that this wasn't "the tour" she had "signed on for" and that "we all got to float our own boat in this world." The instant I turned sixteen, Vicki Jo informed me that the "gravy train" had stopped and that her "me time" had begun.

Mom's answer to "What happens to a dream deferred?" was to move to Myrtle Beach, home to a very active biker scene and purchase a wardrobe of leathers, cutoffs, halter tops, and bandannas. Vicki Jo looked upon my childhood as an annuity and felt that every dime she'd put into raising me should have been accumulating interest and be available for withdrawal at any moment. The last time she hit me up for a loan so that Griz could get a valve job before the big Suck, Bang, and Blow Rally, she had been peeved that I was broke.

"What happened to that rich dude you married?"

"Being married to me didn't make him one penny less rich."

"Goddammit, don't tell me you signed a prenup?"

"Okay, I won't."

"What's that monkey fuck's name? Me and Griz are going to pay a visit on his sorry ass."

"Ethan Hawke."

"Gimme the son of a bitch's number."

"I'll get back to you on that."

I don't mention my mother much. All right, I don't mention my mother ever. It isn't that I'm ashamed of her. Or, okay, it isn't just that I'm ashamed of her; I fear the response if I tell the truth. Maybe illustrate it with a snapshot of Mom, riding high behind Griz, top hiked up, tan Mommy muffins exposed, big drunk grin on her leathery face. I fear that my confidant will look from the photograph to me, then back and say, "Ah, that explains it." Because all my mother explains is the obvious: Girls who aren't born rich have to work what the Lord gave them a lot harder than girls who are. We have to work it a lot harder. That is all my mother explains.

April 3, 2003

6:00 a.m.

I am still wide awake when the radio alarm clicks on. I half listen to some story about a superhero file clerk shooting her way like Rambo out of an Iraqi hospital. With an impossible to-do list, I jump into the shower and lose myself in sudsing up with the last of my Bulgari The Blanc shower gel when Trey calls out to me from the next room. My heart stops. I can't make out exactly what my ex-husband is saying, but he uses the earnest, heartfelt tone he puts on when he's trying to sound earnest and heartfelt. And/or get laid.

I'm saved. The hope of being rescued from having to perpetrate Kippie Lee's party makes me giddy with relief.

"Trey?" I trill, stepping naked from the shower, ready to jump into whatever reconciliation/farewell-fuck scenario he might be playing out. I open the door, imagining how dewy and soft-focus I look in the cloud of escaping steam, and behold an empty room. On the radio, President Bush is telling an audience of marines at Camp Lejeune that their brothers in arms have "performed brilliantly in Operation Iraqi Freedom."

I consider it cruel and unusual punishment that the leader of the free world sounds exactly like my ex. Though I know that this cruel disappointment gives me every right to a minibreakdown, I cannot allow myself that luxury. I cannot hurl myself onto Bamsie's lumpy bed and sob my heart out because no one is coming to save me, because no one was ever coming to save me. No, today I have to be a warrior, and I have to gird myself accordingly.

I appraise my wardrobe and consider the critical choice of what to wear. This day, more than any day since the divorce, I have to establish that I still belong on Kippie Lee's side of the social divide. I zip past my Marc Jacobs, my Anna Suis, my Prada. I need more armament than they provide to make it through the coming ordeal. I need the closest thing I have true haute couture; I need the suit of lights. I pluck out my shimmering Zac Posen gold duchesse satin suit. Just putting it on recalls the exquisite feeling of all the fittings I had finagled. A garment custom-fitted by Zac Posen with nine additional arcing darts undulating between hand-finished French seams is like wearing an all-access backstage pass.

Shoes? Chanel heels, of course. I want to broadcast class, not go Sex and the City with Jimmy Choos. I want to get paid, not laid. But which ones? Are the berry peep-toes accessorized with a Swarovski crystal the size of a golf ball too much? I think not. I slip them on and check the effect: intimidatingly prosperous. I can pull off anything in my twinkling shoes and the suit of lights.

On the radio, Bush signs off. "May God bless our country and all who defend her. Semper Fi."

Did our president just say "Semper Fi"? The very words I'd been thinking to myself earlier?

It is as if George W. Bush himself has blessed my mission and promised that everything will turn out fine. What could possibly go wrong?

Reading Group Guide

How Perfect Is That
Sarah Bird

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. “Try growing up in a double-wide a block off I-20 with a Dairy Queen for your country club, and the boys’ JV football coach for your secret boyfriend when you were barely thirteen. Grit? I have more grit in my craw than a Rhode Island Red” (22). How does Blythe Young’s background help her cope, even in the world of the extremely privileged? Does her Dairy Queen background ever show through her revamped façade of Blahniks and Prada?

2. Even though in the course of the novel Blythe never remounts to the top of the Austin social ladder, she finds her way to a much happier ending. What allows her to find her own definition of success? Who helps her most along the way?

3. How does Austin as a setting animate this story? Could Blythe’s experience take place anywhere else?

4. Blythe’s former mother-in-law, Peggy Biggs-Dix, represents a widely recognized archetype of the upper-class matriarch. What is her role inside her family and in society at large? Do we ever feel sympathy for, or forgive Peggy for ruining Blythe’s marriage? Or does her story mirror Blythe’s own?

5. What do you make of Lynn Sydney at the beginning of the book when she has a short conversation with Blythe at Kippie Lee’s party? Does your opinion of her change when she comes in to save the day at the end of the book? How?

6. Do you, as a reader, relate to Blythe—with her wit, rampant perseverance and creative ways to overcome—even though she can be a scoundrel? If so, how?

7. When imagining being caught by the IRS, Blythe recounts, “I suffered under the delusion that the not really really rich have about the really really rich: I believed that since they have so much, they wouldn’t be so petty.” (40) Do you think Blythe’s “delusion” has roots in reality? Discuss how her former social circle behaves in a petty manner.

8. Blythe establishes herself immediately as different than the Pemberton Heights crowd, but she also separates herself from the Seneca hippies, by such comments as: “Cooking aromas heavy on whole grains, tamari, sesame, recomposition of soybeans, Third World staples so beloved of kids who grow up on Pop-Tarts, then go boho the instant that they move away from the automatic sprinkler systems of their youth. Having grown up on hamburger that needed to be helped and with a sprinkler system that consisted of me and a watering can, I never understood the impulse.” (65) Is Blythe really as different from both as she believes?

9. When Blythe and Millie discuss the Dix family, Blythe recounts the humiliation suffered by Trey’s father, Henry “Junior” Dix the Second, whose own dad enjoyed making him stand in the sun and then would ridicule him with: “ ‘Well, by damn! The little turd does cast a shadow!’ ” (92) Why do you think Bird includes this detail on the Dix family?

10. While rebuilding her life at Seneca House, Blythe has the impulse to romanticize Trey and demonize Peggy, blaming the dissolution of their marriage on his mother. But when Trey appears back in her life, he hurts her immensely again on his own. What differences do you see in the way Blythe recovers the second time around? Do you think she will ever, or should ever, forgive Trey?

11. At first it seems like the friendship between Blythe and Millie is lopsided: that Blythe benefits from the friendship but does not reciprocate. Does your opinion of their relationship change as the book progresses?

12. How does Blythe ingeniously use the idiosyncrasies of the rich against them to survive another day in their company? Think of when she tried to throw a party for Kippie Lee or find a place to live in the Pyramid House. How does the pervasive humor of this book come out during Blythe’s capers?

13. Do you think that Blythe was right in exposing Millie and Sanjeev’s love, even though it created a temporary rift in the girls’ relationship? Was the action driven by Blythe’s usual selfishness, or did she have another motivation?

14. At the “Seneca Falls Spa,” a place where everyone reaches a point of self-discovery, Blythe finally admits to Millie that she had fallen in love with Trey partly because of his money. Why is this admission so important at the end of the book? Were you surprised by this fact?

15. Blythe comes to see her own flaws and moral shortcomings that stem from greed and over-indulgence, and as a result, tries to change course. Do you think that similar trends in American culture are capable of a self-correction?

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