Almost Perfect

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

ALMOST PERFECT, by Alice Adams, the author of seven other novels and four highly praised collections of short stories, deals with a most promising and timely subject, “the effect that work and success can have on a relationship” (as the author has explained in a recent interview). Set, like most...

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ALMOST PERFECT, by Alice Adams, the author of seven other novels and four highly praised collections of short stories, deals with a most promising and timely subject, “the effect that work and success can have on a relationship” (as the author has explained in a recent interview). Set, like most of Adams’ fiction, in contemporary San Francisco, ALMOST PERFECT deals chiefly with opposites who first attract only eventually to go their separate ways. Small, dark, dowdy, and self-doubting, Stella Blake, though already in her forties, works at a “provisional” newspaper job until she meets Richard Fallon and has both her apartment and her life “magically transformed” by the “genius” as well as the money of this pauper-turned-prince. Richard, a highly successful free-lance commercial artist, is all that Stella is not: big and blond, self-assured and self-assertive, loved by all (male and female) but, as he himself claims, “not liked a lot.” He also happens to be one of Adams’ most interesting male characters: a manic-depressive who is as restive about his humble working-class origins as he is about his success in advertising. Despite his bravado, he is obsessed by a “fear of things falling apart.” And fall apart they do as Stella’s career takes off (to fame, fortune, and a young lover who also happens to be a doctor). Richard ends up broke, companion to a young gay friend dying of AIDS.

Rendered in short, archly titled chapters and with a certain degree of wry detachment, ALMOST PERFECT is readable and interesting but ultimately unsuccessful. The reader is asked to care about characters that are little more than types (the chic older woman, the young gay stockbroker, “the ravishing tall blond German woman,” etc.), upscale, superficial, and utterly unconvincing. What matters most in Adams’ novel is not how work and success may affect relationships but what the characters eat, where they live, how they decorate their apartments, whether their luggage is fashionable enough for a trip to Europe, and, at the other end of the narrative spectrum, how well they cope with the string of crises that make up their over-melodramatized everyday lives: madness, suicide, AIDS, big deals, bigger deals, stunning success, and abject failure. Aspiring to be the GREAT GATSBY of the 1990’s, ALMOST PERFECT ends up a good deal closer in plot, language, and characterization to those prime-time has-beens about the lives, or rather lifestyles, of the similarly well-off and well-connected, DALLAS, DYNASTY, and neighboring FALCON CREST.

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