Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780307378743, 288pp.
Publication Date: June 15, 2010
In this enchanting debut novel, Maggie Pouncey brings to life the unforgettable Flora Dempsey, the headstrong and quick-witted only child of Lewis Dempsey, a beloved former college president and famous literary critic in the league of Harold Bloom.
At the news of her father’s death, Flora quits her big-city magazine job and returns to Darwin, the quaint New England town where she grew up, to retreat into the house he has left her, filled as it is with reminders of him. Even weightier is her appointment as her father’s literary executor. It seems he was secretly writing poems at the end of his life—love poems to a girlfriend Flora didn’t know he had. Flora soon discovers that this woman has her own claims on Lewis’s poetry and his memory, and in the righteousness of her loss and bafflement at her father’s secrets—his life so richly separate from her own in ways she never guessed—Flora is highly suspicious of her. Meanwhile, Flora is besieged by well-wishers and literary bloggers alike as she tries to figure out how to navigate it all: the fate of the poems, the girlfriend who wants a place in her life, her memories of her parents’ divorce, and her own uncertain future.
At once comic and profound, Perfect Reader is a heady, uplifting story of loneliness and of the spur to growth that grief can be. Brimming with energy and with the elbow-patchy wisdom of her still-vivid father, Flora’s story will set her free to be the “perfect reader” not just of her father’s life but of her own as well.
Maggie Pouncey was born in New York City and grew up there and in Amherst, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut. She received her B.A. and M.F.A. from Columbia University and has taught writing at Columbia, the Bard Prison Initiative, and the New York City nonprofit Girls Write Now. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.
“Intelligent and honest . . . [Pouncey’s] take on life in a liberal college town (smug yet unhappy) and in the literary world (snide yet seductive) is deliciously spot-on.”
“A whip-smart debut about a grieving daughter coming to terms with the secrets her professor dad never shared. Wry and emotional.”
“An assured literary debut.”
“Pouncey has a keen eye and well-tuned ear for the quirks of small-town college life. Whether it’s Darwin decision to declare itself a “nuclear-free zone” or its Springtime Salamander Crossing, she captures the college’s influence and its existence as a thing apart.”
“This imaginative debut takes a profound look at the connection between words on the page and the infinite interpretations for a reader . . . Pouncey has skillfully crafted a portrait of smalltown academia, where the relationships between reader and text are just as elusive and complex as the relationships between father and daughter, husband and wife, or between two lovers.”
“Tender, smart and often wicked, especially on the subject of college towns, Pouncey’s first is impressively mature and entertaining . . . Fathers, daughters and poetry are ruefully, wittily combined in an introspective literary debut.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“[A] charming first novel . . . Wryly rendered.”
“Maggie Pouncey's Perfect Reader is wry, vivid, loving, and exuberantly bookish. I enjoyed it tremendously.”
“Maggie Pouncey's debut is marked by an extraordinary blend of tact, wit, mercy and intelligence. The father/daughter knot is explored from an entirely fresh perspective; and it ties us in from beginning to end.”