In a Perfect World

By Laura Kasischke. Published in 2009.

Laura Kasischke is first and foremost an award-winning poet, and you can feel that in her prose. Unlike most novelists, she seems less interested in dialogue or plot or even character than in imagery and mood. Her evocative language wraps its tendrils around you, drawing you into its own dark dreaminess. You keep reading not because you’re desperate to learn what happens next (in fact, not much happens at all) but because the language has cast a spell you can’t bear to break.

That eerie quality is particularly well suited for In a Perfect World, Kasischke’s seventh novel, which draws unabashedly on fairy tales, lingering on such redolent items as a lost shoe, a white goose, a lonely house in the woods; the residue of magic in the prose seems only appropriate. But not all fairy tales involve princesses and starry happily-ever-afters. Kasischke’s fairy tale allusions knit together with oblique references to the medieval bubonic plague and contemporary fears about epidemics and economic instability. The result is a hushed, endearingly domestic post-apocalyptic tale with an unexpected love story, not romantic but maternal, the mythical evil stepmother redeemed.