Synopses & Reviews
WHEN YOU'RE PERFECT, YOU CAN'T FALTER...
Because if you do, the piranhas will get you. Blythe Young, Austin socialite, has two secrets she can't allow to escape: she's actually high-flying trailer trash, and her divorce left her penniless. Before becoming Mrs. Henry Trey Biggs-Dix III, Blythe owned the exclusive catering company Wretched Xcess, and for the second time she's determined to fake it 'til she makes it -- passing off warehouse club taquitos as Petites Tournedos Bearnaise a la Mexicaine and relying on her own private concoction of Stoli and pharmaceuticals as a substitute for sleep.
But then a blabber-mouthed accountant puts the IRS on Blythe's trail at a most unfortunate moment -- just when her catering staff turns vicious about missing pay, and a garden party of Austin belles sniffs out the Crisco in the pate. There's no option except to cut and run. Blythe's been ducking calls from her friend Millie for over a decade, but now Millie is the only person with a heart big enough to take her in. So, just one step ahead of the law, Blythe sputters in on fumes of gas to the fleabag co-op boarding house at the University of Texas where the two met and that Millie still runs.
What do you do when you hit bottom? Sharing a bathroom again with anyone -- let alone computer geeks and white Rasta wannabes -- wasn't in Blythe's game plan. But in a time when both new and old money can turn into no money before you can say Jimmy Choo, Blythe's story is a morality tale for the new millennium as, with the help of her reluctant housemates, she faces down the creme de la creme of Austin society one last time, and by doing so finds the way out of her own ethical quagmire.
Blythe Young--a wannabe Texas princess, a heroine as plucky, driven, and desperate as Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp--is plummeting precipitously from up- to downstairs, banging her head on every step of the Austin social ladder as she falls. Not unlike the country as a whole, Blythe has surrendered to a multitude of dubious moral choices and is now facing the disastrous consequences: bankruptcy, public humiliation, a teensy fondness for the pharmaceuticals, and no Pap smear for ten years. But worst of all, she is forced to move back into the fleabag co-op boardinghouse where she lived when she was a student at the University of Texas.
Though Blythe cares much more about the ravaged state of her nails, and how to get the ingredients for Code Warrior--Blythe's proprietary blend of Stoli, Ativan, and Red Bull that keeps everything in focus--her soul is hanging in the balance. Only when she is in danger of losing the one friend who's been her true moral center is she ready to face her sins and make amends.
And her penance is merciless: she must find a way to lure her former socialite friends into the tofu tenement she has been reduced to. Little does Blythe know that the ensuing collision between the pierced, tattooed, and dreadlocked inhabitants and the pampered, Kir-sipping socialites offers the only hope of finding a way out of her moral quagmire.
Funny, fast-paced, sharp-eyed, an old-fashioned morality tale with an appropriately twenty-first-century ending, How Perfect Is That is a comic triumph of a novel.
In HOW PERFECT IS THAT, Blythe finds herself broke, divorced, and running from the IRS after 10 years at the top of the Austin social ladder.
Sarah Bird takes on Austin high society in this critically acclaimed, hilarious comedy of manners in which a newly divorced heroine eventually comes to realize what matters most in life.
In social satirist Sarah Bird’s seventh novel, Blythe Young is happily immersed in Austin society after she marries Trey Biggs–Dix, naively signing a strict prenuptial agreement insisted upon by her mother-in-law. But when that same mother-in-law lands a better catch for her son ten years later, Blythe, now thirty-three and childless, is unceremoniously dumped. Penniless, desperate, but determined, Blythe finds herself taking refuge at Seneca House, the housing co-op where she lived a decade ago in college. There she encounters her old college roommate, the sweet Millie Ott, one of the many friends Blythe shucked off during a frenzy of social climbing.
Before long, Blythe comes face to face with her past sins and dubious moral choices, and under the unlikely tutelage of Millie, the eternal optimist, Blythe is finally able to discover the path to real happiness. Combining the wicked humor of David Sedaris with the hip, trendy style of Lauren Weisberger, this fast-paced, and sharply observed tale is a comic triumph of a novel.
About the Author
Sarah Bird lives with her family in Austin, Texas, where she performs her own material regularly at the Hyde Park Theatre. The author of six previous novels, she is currently working on her latest, about reconnecting and the empty nest.
Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. "Try growing up in a double-wide a block off I-20 with a Dairy Queen for your country club, and the boys' JV football coach for your secret boyfriend when you were barely thirteen. Grit? I have more grit in my craw than a Rhode Island Red" (22). How does Blythe Young's background help her cope, even in the world of the extremely privileged? Does her Dairy Queen background ever show through her revamped façade of Blahniks and Prada?
2. Even though in the course of the novel Blythe never remounts to the top of the Austin social ladder, she finds her way to a much happier ending. What allows her to find her own definition of success? Who helps her most along the way?
3. How does Austin as a setting animate this story? Could Blythe's experience take place anywhere else?
4. Blythe's former mother-in-law, Peggy Biggs-Dix, represents a widely recognized archetype of the upper-class matriarch. What is her role inside her family and in society at large? Do we ever feel sympathy for, or forgive Peggy for ruining Blythe's marriage? Or does her story mirror Blythe's own?
5. What do you make of Lynn Sydney at the beginning of the book when she has a short conversation with Blythe at Kippie Lee's party? Does your opinion of her change when she comes in to save the day at the end of the book? How?
6. Do you, as a reader, relate to Blythe -- with her wit, rampant perseverance and creative ways to overcome -- even though she can be a scoundrel? If so, how?
7. When imagining being caught by the IRS, Blythe recounts, "I suffered under the delusion that the not really really rich have about the really really rich: I believed that since they have so much, they wouldn't be so petty." (40) Do you think Blythe's "delusion" has roots in reality? Discuss how her former social circle behaves in a petty manner.
8. Blythe establishes herself immediately as different than the Pemberton Heights crowd, but she also separates herself from the Seneca hippies, by such comments as: "Cooking aromas heavy on whole grains, tamari, sesame, recomposition of soybeans, Third World staples so beloved of kids who grow up on Pop-Tarts, then go boho the instant that they move away from the automatic sprinkler systems of their youth. Having grown up on hamburger that needed to be helped and with a sprinkler system that consisted of me and a watering can, I never understood the impulse." (65) Is Blythe really as different from both as she believes?
9. When Blythe and Millie discuss the Dix family, Blythe recounts the humiliation suffered by Trey's father, Henry "Junior" Dix the Second, whose own dad enjoyed making him stand in the sun and then would ridicule him with: " 'Well, by damn! The little turd does cast a shadow!' " (92) Why do you think Bird includes this detail on the Dix family?
10. While rebuilding her life at Seneca House, Blythe has the impulse to romanticize Trey and demonize Peggy, blaming the dissolution of their marriage on his mother. But when Trey appears back in her life, he hurts her immensely again on his own. What differences do you see in the way Blythe recovers the second time around? Do you think she will ever, or should ever, forgive Trey?
11. At first it seems like the friendship between Blythe and Millie is lopsided: that Blythe benefits from the friendship but does not reciprocate. Does your opinion of their relationship change as the book progresses?
12. How does Blythe ingeniously use the idiosyncrasies of the rich against them to survive another day in their company? Think of when she tried to throw a party for Kippie Lee or find a place to live in the Pyramid House. How does the pervasive humor of this book come out during Blythe's capers?
13. Do you think that Blythe was right in exposing Millie and Sanjeev's love, even though it created a temporary rift in the girls' relationship? Was the action driven by Blythe's usual selfishness, or did she have another motivation?
14. At the "Seneca Falls Spa," a place where everyone reaches a point of self-discovery, Blythe finally admits to Millie that she had fallen in love with Trey partly because of his money. Why is this admission so important at the end of the book? Were you surprised by this fact?
15. Blythe comes to see her own flaws and moral shortcomings that stem from greed and over-indulgence, and as a result, tries to change course. Do you think that similar trends in American culture are capable of a self-correction?