Pegged as a 21st century spin on Jane Austen, complete with a reality show twist, Imperfect Bliss makes for a light and humorous read. Susan Fales-Hill has created a family of varied personalities, from an over-the-top matriarch to four sisters with vastly different viewpoints and priorities. The result is a light romp through what could be called modern romance, as it is.
Bliss, short for Elizabeth, is clearly the sister with the brains, though she is the most unlucky in love. A year since her divorce, Bliss still pines for her ex-husband, when she’s not mentally bashing him for his absence. She has moved back in with her parents in her childhood home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Here she will be able to finish her PhD, while raising her own four-year-old daughter, a delightful child with a physical disability that doesn’t affect her buoyant personality. Her Jamaican-born mother Forsythia, with her larger-than-life personality, has high aspirations for her daughters, and she loudly expresses her disappointment in their romantic losses on a regular basis, while their British father sits idly by subtly conveying his difference in opinion from behind a copy of the London Times.
Enter reality television, and everyone’s lives change immediately. Bliss’s younger sister Diana, the sister who fills the role of the beautiful one with stereotypical “girlie” interests, announces that she will be the star of a new reality show called The Virgin. Oh yes, she’ll be giving herself (in more ways than one) in marriage to the lucky winner, and all Bliss can do is fume by the sidelines that her family has become caught up in such an offensive concept. Forsythia, however, is ecstatic, and the show goes forward.
In the weeks that follow, there are ups and downs for Bliss and the entire family– international travel, romantic interest on-screen and off, and a potential scandal that could throw the whole production off-course. Bliss tries to stay focused on what’s important in her own life, specifically her daughter and her rising career, but even she can’t help but be drawn into the spectacle that The Virgin has created for her family.
More serious topics make appearances here, raising a child with a physical disability, teenage sexuality and behavior, and the influence of “reality” television on our society among them, but readers shouldn’t expect any deep reflections or social commentary in these pages. In a way, I felt there were many lost opportunities to expound in more depth on any or all of these issues, but I had to remind myself that it would have felt out of place in the more fluffy overall tone of the book.
I would call Imperfect Bliss “light fare,” and while it is highly predictable, it was still a fun summer read for me. At times the ridiculousness provided some good laughs, as long as I remembered not to think too deeply about it all. While there’s a lot going on here in the background of Diana’s reality production, with Bliss’s failed marriage, one sister’s desperate cries for attention, and another’s struggles with her own romantic relationships, all of it goes along as one might expect it to. Cue happy ending.
Dawn blogs at my thoughts exactly, where she over-shares on a regular basis, though in a more realistic fashion than most reality television productions.