|© Liz Linder|
by Keith Taylor
In Laura Kasischke's new novel, In a Perfect World, an airline pilot, a widower, marries a stewardess, Jiselle, primarily so she can take care of his three troubled children while he flies off to various exotic cities. There is tension from the start. But this family drama may not be what is most memorable about the book, which is set in a decidedly troubled time: "Full of curious weather, meteor showers, the discovery in rain forests and oceans of species thought to be extinct, it was the kind of year you might associate with an apocalypse if you were prone to making those kinds of associations, which more and more people seemed to be."
There is a new disease just vaguely hinted at in the news, "the Phoenix Flu," and it is beginning to take a toll. More like the Black Death than Swine Flu, it is making people flee their homes and usual occupations. The nations of the world try to put America in quarantine. The social fabric begins to crumble.
This is the moment where Kasischke shines. In her previous novels and her award-winning poetry, she has excelled at taking the things we recognize immediately as our own, and then turning them toward a different light. Readers might remember the imaginative reality that almost conquers death in The Life Before Her Eyes, the book that became the interesting movie starring Uma Thurman last year. The ordinary often becomes ominous in Kasischke's books, and occasionally it turns wonderful.
Disease finally overwhelms the society of In a Perfect World. Kasischke creates a futuristic post-apocalyptic dystopia, or at least the beginnings of one. Luckily the water continues to flow in the taps, and the cell phones continue to function for a couple of months. Electricity flickers off for a moment, then a week, and then forever. The new plague seems to kill the old and the young randomly. But Jiselle learns how to cope. At first she figures out the
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