Brimming with Characters
May 6, 2007
IF THE WORLD of contemporary literature could be compared to, say, food, it would be a buffet line, full of soggy green beans and sour tapioca pudding. But Naeem Murr's The Perfect Man would be a gourmet meal: juicy, perfectly cooked sirloin steak with a piping-hot baked potato--oh, and cheesecake for dessert.
In other words, the flavor and texture of Murr's latest novel is, quite simply, exquisite. He crafts characters with a complexity and intensity that they become more than "lifelike." They become immortal. These are the Huck Finns and the Tom Joads and the Scout Finches who never die.
The Perfect Man is the story of the ultimate outsider. Rajiv, the illegitimate child of a British man and an Indian woman, is rejected by his family and sent to live with a stranger in Pisgah, Mo., in 1954. This is where the story comes alive, as Murr begins introducing the colorful, peculiar town folk.
Raj and his friends, Annie, Lew, Nora and Alvin, begin the novel as children, but we follow them through adolescence and into adulthood. It's not strictly a "coming-of-age" story, though, because, as Murr notes, every character essentially changes and develops during the course of a narrative.
Murr takes a sort of egalitarian approach to his characters, since almost every member of the community gets a spot in the limelight. Just for starters, there's Ruth Winters, Raj's guardian, also an outsider for never having married; Bennett, the town heavyweight, with a face like an Easter Island statue, and always with his "cronies"; and Frank, Annie's older brother, growing angrier and more brittle with each page.
It's quite a task for an author to command, not just one or two main characters, but an entire town, with each persona distinct and memorable. Murr accomplishes it with finesse, holding us spellbound and rapt.
And what's more, there are secrets bubbling beneath the surface of this small Midwestern town. There is tragedy and heartache and rage and madness. Pretty soon, it's bound to boil over.
Murr's prose is rich and intensely detailed without needing to drag on for paragraphs. He focuses on the small and intimate, letting dialogue and action create incredibly vivid scenes; though there's plenty of humor and tender moments, too, the fervor and discernment in Murr's writing add just the right amount of weight to the novel.
If other books have been feeling rather empty, Murr's The Perfect Man will be a delightful, satisfying escape from the mediocre.
Jessica Glass is a freelance writer living in Fredericksburg.
Copyright 2007 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.