As a follow-up to The Family Fang, reading Perfect Little World you can't help but wonder a little bit about Kevin Wilson's upbringing. In the former, two children are brought up by parents who are improv actors, and who have their young children join in elaborate public performances that shock and defy social convention. How it affects their adult lives is the heart of that story. In his most recent novel, Perfect Little World, Dr. Preston Grind is brought up by two loving parents under what is called the Constant Friction Method, introducing hardships in life starting at infancy (attaching weights to the infants feet while they are learning to crawl, for example) to better prepare them for the hardships of life. How this upbringing affects Dr. Grind, while perhaps not the sole thrust of this provocative and well-pondered novel, is certainly a big part of it.
Dr. Grind is at the center of a bold new social, research experiment, The Infinite Family Project (IFP). Funded in the multi-millions by the matriarch of big box conglomerate, the experiment proposes that children who are raised by an extended family, something akin to a commune without the free love, anti-establishment tropes, will flourish. Grind brings in 10 families, 9 couples and one single mother, all of whom will soon give birth, and upon delivering, they move together to a state-of-the art complex where they will all share in the upbringing and love of all the children, along with a small group of researchers and staff that will provide all the needs for not only the children, but the parents as well. The children will not know who their biological parents are until age 5 in this ten year project.
As one might imagine, things go fairly well for several years, but as the project rolls along, it is also no surprise that while the children adapt fairly well to this new family dynamic, the parents are the ones, face with their own emotional arcs, who could make it all collapse. The story is told largely from the point of view of Izzy, the singular, single parent, whose own upbringing and its challenges make her an excellent candidate for success with the IFP. While only 19 when she give birth, and the youngest of the parents, Izzy is one of the more level-headed of the group, and giving her perspective to the reader, helps normalize the experience even as we question its values. One interesting side-note that really didn't impact my enjoyment of the novel. Early on I pictured Izzy as African-American, and hence, her son as a mixed-race child, that even when a couple of minor descriptions lead me to believe that author thought of her as white, I did not let go of my picture of her, and for me, the novel works even better that way.