The novel’s space is mostly reserved for characters with a self-assured coolness born of beauty, talent or charm ... Gould offers delicious if unsurprising details of Laura’s early 20s in the early aughts ... Laura is most vividly present on the page when she considers her exhaustion, which only deepens when her family expands to four: her husband, Matt, and his daughter, Kayla ... Laura’s eventual show of empathy, mother-to-mother, reads as mildly perfunctory. This coolness...is also one of the novel’s strengths. Gould doesn’t shy away from the significant imperfections in these relationships, and the novel benefits greatly from her candor.
... when Laura becomes pregnant, Perfect Tunes diverges from the familiar tropes, becoming a subtle and complex meditation on motherhood and how it can throw all of our choices, and their costs, into sharp relief ... evocative details buoy Gould’s sometimes mundane prose, as do occasional simple but pitch-perfect observations about life, youth, and infatuation that sear with emotional accuracy ... Gould succeeds in representing Laura’s situation evenhandedly. She suggests neither that Laura has sacrificed too much of her ambition to become a mother, nor that Laura’s choice is altruistic in a way that childless young women living selfish, frivolous lives simply cannot comprehend. Nor is it even a simplistic second-wave feminist declaration that a woman can have both a family and a career. In Perfect Tunes, motherhood is not a moralistic weapon to wield against the uninitiated childless masses, but rather a prism through which we might reconsider our choices and who we make them for.
The first half is a treat, layered in grimy pre-9/11 NYC nostalgia, as aspiring musician Laura, 22, moves to the city and falls for Dylan, a sexy, troubled drummer ... her spiky affection for New York could sustain a whole book’s worth of asides on cramped studios, scrappy artists, and thwarted ambition. But Gould’s got more on her mind ... The final act lacks emotional pull, a structural gambit that’s thematically rich but never quite in tune.
The trappings of Gould’s writing are millennial, but her portrayal of the desire for self-actualization and understanding is universal. This ground isn’t new in fiction, certainly, but Laura’s and Marie’s voices each stand out for their honesty and poignancy. Gould’s women are as fearless as they are fearful, as full of bravado as nagging doubt and depression ... Emotional and at times cringingly self-conscious, Perfect Tunes explores the mother-daughter bond through a distinctly youthful lens. Gould’s strength lies in her powers of observation, her ability to wrap words around a specific time and a place in the lives of these particular women.
Yes, it’s the perennial conflict between motherhood and career, but not the way most readers might expect ... It’s an easy read that constantly takes unexpected detours. To Gould’s credit, she doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. Many of the characters are painted in a wonderfully subtle palette ... The glaring exception is Callie, the stereotypical alpha girl. The book could also have done without so many 'in' references to Brooklyn street names and subway stops. And come on, Gould: Give us the 'perfect song' that Laura wrote when she was 16! We all need some perfect tunes in our lives.
Perfect Tunes—perhaps not coincidentally the first book Gould has published since becoming a mother—does not skimp on the shit, vomit, or other biological sundries that accompany raising a child ... Gould remains expertly attuned to the tiny details that reveal a bohemian-seeming New Yorker’s actual tax bracket ... As Marie gets older, time flies, sometimes to the detriment of the novel’s rhythm. She ages in a short series of overbrief chapters, and before we know it, she’s fourteen and battling the same depressive and addictive tendencies as her late father and his mother. These connections and causalities can feel too neatly diagrammed: Pregnant characters puke with suspiciously fateful timing; intergenerational ailments are a bit too directly handed down ... Gould, in the end, is not suggesting that oft-told myth that motherhood makes artistic life impossible; she is showing, through Laura and Marie’s relationship, how unexpressed creativity can become as painful to carry as unpumped breast milk. That’s some generous wisdom from a writer who was once cast as her generation’s preeminent navel-gazer.
... nothing short of frustrating. Gould’s writing comes to life when revealing the intricacies of a mother-daughter relationship, as it does extensively in the latter two of the book’s three parts. But her approach to writing about music leaves much to be desired. Music drives the lives of her characters, but you almost wouldn’t know that from the lack of musicality to Gould’s prose ... Gould skillfully tracks Marie’s struggle with depression and Laura’s guilt about feeling unfulfilled by a life devoted to parenthood ... Laura’s musical aspirations and how they conflict with her responsibilities and identity as a parent—never feels as alive as the mother-daughter relationship. Early chapters, when Laura is young and childless, fail to show what it is, specifically, that songwriting does for her. For one, Gould isn’t quite up to the task of transmogrifying music—a fundamentally non-verbal art form—into vivid sentences. Throughout, Perfect Tunes is full of vague descriptions and clunky dialogue, and when it comes time for Gould to express the feelings brought on by a great song—or even capture the reasons that music is so important to her characters—she either avoids the matter or simply flounders ... Especially in the novel’s second section, Gould very much misses the opportunity to dazzle readers with descriptions of Laura performing with Callie for the first time in years, and to an enthusiastic crowd...By the end, the reader never gets to feel the moment, to experience it firsthand ... Gould completely avoids telling the reader anything substantive about the fruits of her protagonist’s creative labor. This is a disappointing deficiency of ambition in an otherwise engaging and moving look at a woman’s interpersonal relationships.
Harried, loving scenes of Laura and Marie in their cloistered little world are some of the book’s most alive and memorable ... Pair this with Chelsey Johnson’s charming mother-daughter-music novel Stray City (2018).
Gould's second novel...is essentially about how parenting can be rewarding but also challenging; the music angle alluded to in the title is secondary. The character development is uneven, and the parenting angle is often tedious, but fans of women's fiction about young mothers, daughters, and life dreams might enjoy it.
... sharply observant novel ... While Gould falters when depicting emotional connections, she offers vivid glimpses of N.Y.C.’s recent past and impresses with striking language ... Gould’s portrait of a would-be artist as a young woman offers fresh, poignant insights into the challenges faced by the city’s transplanted dreamers.