In the early 2000s, Laura has no sooner moved to New York City to begin a music career than she falls in love with a troubled musician—who in short order gets Laura pregnant and dies in a drug-related accident. Over the next 15 years, Laura struggles to balance motherhood and her artistic aspirations.
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.