Good novels are constructed; they may seem effortless in their design, but they are planned as purposely as a well-built house. Good stories have an admirable architecture, and both an apparent and transparent craftsmanship. In a novel, the construction counts. Kevin Wilson knows how to construct a story ... Remember 'Harrison Bergeron,' that Kurt Vonnegut short story about forcibly handicapping people to achieve equality? And if you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s razor-sharp dystopian novel The Heart Goes Last, you’ll get the feeling — as I did, only three chapters into Perfect Little World — that poor Izzy is in a dysfunctional family experiment ... As you might imagine, Izzy’s contact with 'normal human interaction' is fleeting. I’m not giving away what happens to the money source behind the Infinite Family Project. I’ll just say you should watch out for matriarchs of family fortunes ... It’s a novel you keep reading for old-fashioned reasons — because it’s a good story, and you need to know what happens. But you also keep reading because you want to know what a good family is. Everyone wants to know that.
Wilson aims for 'a weird kind of postmodern fairy tale' — like an animated Edward Gorey cartoon, with a more realistic contemporary setting and a warmer, lighter touch. Perfect Little World is at its most charming while exploring the dynamics of group parenting ... Wilson also enjoys poking fun at the size of his cast of characters. The novel is prefaced with a faux-genealogy chart tracing the relationships between Dr. Grind, his three research assistants, the 10 babies, and their 19 parents ... Fans of the sharper irony in The Family Fang may find Wilson’s new novel a tad sappy. But just a tad. For the most part, Wilson pulls off his sweet-and-tart tone.
Fortunately for us readers, the experimental ideal community that Kevin Wilson brings to life in his second novel, Perfect Little World, has the delicious makings of a mess from its very inception ... Wilson richly imagines the mundane details of life in the futuristic compound, as well as the bumpy personalities of the other parents, all of whom, except Izzy, are coupled ... Wilson is such an inventive and witty writer, that it was only after I'd finished Perfect Little World and was no longer caught up in the story, that I realized how many ideas he raises here, how many kinds of family arrangements he scrutinizes, among them biological, chosen, nuclear, communal, broken and bandaged. The utopian Infinite Family Project may be flawed from the get-go, but Wilson's 'perfect little world' of a novel pretty much lives up to its title.
Wilson’s Perfect Little World finds its bliss in the vast disconnect between people’s best intentions and where they land—and all the spectacular ways they manage to sabotage and misdirect themselves in between ... Though heady concepts of nature and nurture dance around the edges, they never quite penetrate Wilson’s Little World. Instead, his story is like the Project: snug, quirky, and engagingly imperfect.
In a different writer's hands, this development would be the stuff of tragedy or high drama. But Wilson isn't interested in exploring the sordid ways such an impulsive decision could go wrong. Instead he takes the reader on a journey into the absurd ... Wilson's writing is at its most comically wry ... Preston and Izzy emerge as the two strongest characters, perhaps because they are the only characters whose backstories are given in the novel ... While the plot could have devolved into snarky jokes about the unrealistic goals of utopian communities, Wilson instead chooses to explore with compassion the many things that can go wrong in a communal living environment, from jealousy to sexual tension to resentment over who gets stuck with the potty-training duties. He also genuinely is interested in the many ways that people choose to define their families. The result is a wry and surprisingly tender novel that should delight Wilson's many fans.
Though the setup — on-site postdocs, unlimited funds, buildings covered with olive-green AstroTurf — is quite different from the classic hippie communes featured in Lauren Groff’s Arcadia and T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, many of the same dynamics are at play. Sexual tension is one problem. Public opinion, now magnified through social media, is another ... the novel’s grand finale, with no lack of pulled pork or romance, reminds us that not everything unpredictable is painful or bad, and that conventional arrangements have no monopoly on the profound connections that make family.