Book Review: Readings
Sarah Bird skewers Austin society in the days of George and Laura and the Dellionaires.
Reviewed by Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 6, 2008
How Perfect Is Thatby Sarah Bird
Alfred A. Knopf, 320 pp., $23.95
Blythe Young, the social- climbing protagonist of Sarah Bird's new novel, has reached wit's end. For a gal who's always used her wits to climb each rung of the ladder, the realization of her plight at the start of How Perfect Is That is a real buzz kill. Sure, her Code Warrior concoction – a "proprietary blend of Red Bull, Stoli, Ativan, just the tiniest smidge of OxyContin, and one thirty-milligram, timed-release Spansule of Dexedrine" – can stave off the truth for a little while. But once she's been kicked out of the carriage house that she's squatted in since her divorce from an Austin blue blood (and with that ouster, separated from the stash she kept hidden in an ice cream container in the freezer), Blythe Young can no longer maintain the illusion which her made-up name implies. The road does not go on forever.
Bird's new novel is a valentine to Austin, the city the author calls home. Set in 2003, the story of Blythe's tribulations is grounded in physical and geographical references that instantly ring true to the Austin reader. Underlining her descriptions of the tangible, however, is Bird's cagier objective: using Blythe as a metaphor for the conscienceless profligacy of the Bush years. Blythe's catering company, Wretched Xcess, got drunk on the free-flowing money of Austin tech boom, only to crater in the wake of the Dellionaires' downturn and the divorce from her husband and his connections. Everything, after all, is connections – and in Austin society in 2003, the ultimate connection is to George and Laura.
Once cast out of Pemberton Heights society and dunned by the IRS, Blythe's trajectory leaves her parked in her company minivan outside the university co-op she had lived in as a graduate student. With nowhere lower to sink than utter vagrancy, Blythe takes up residence in her old haunt and begins her redemption – but not without her instinctive wiles and scams. Bird details her pilgrim's progress with an acute eye and ear for the lifeblood of Austin – the parvenus and old-money socialites, the old hippies and young vegans, the LUGs (lesbians until graduation) and the lobbyists. Like Blythe, Bird accomplishes it with wit – and a scorching sense of humor.
Sarah Bird will be at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar) on June 10 at 7pm for a reading, signing, and book launch party. For more information, visit www.bookpeople.com. She'll also appear at Barnes & Noble (10000 Research #158) on Thursday, June 19, at 7:30pm, in a fundraising event for Austin Public Library.