Leah Greenblatt
July 22, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Perfect Life

Current Status
In Season
Jessica Shattuck
W.W. Norton

We gave it an A-

In Perfect Life, the follow-up to her well-received 2003 debut, The Hazards of Good Breeding, Jessica Shattuck offers a smart, sad rumination on the pursuit of happiness — and how the elusive ideal has evolved into a sort of stubbornly held birthright for privileged twenty- and thirtysomethings. Jenny, a former prom queen climbing the corporate ladder in the pharmaceutical industry, has gone to great lengths to keep her ex, the underachieving Neil, at a distance. When he returns to Boston after a long L.A. exile, however, he quickly draws in another old friend, the vulnerable Laura, just as the sharp-minded scientist Elise gets tangled in the ropes of familial obligation. The four main characters are pulled together and spun apart by various dramas (sperm-donor babies, corporate espionage) that could come off as soap-opera-ish in lesser hands, but Perfect is too nuanced to slide into broad archetypes or easy resolutions. With her elegant prose, Shattuck manages to make her characters’ stories feel both engrossing and utterly real. A-

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