This collection of short stories burrows beneath the surface of other people's lives. The first story 'The Egg' introduces us to Celia Idlewild, who seems to have everything; perfect life; perfect house; perfect children as well as the most exquisite grand piano.(Pianos feature a lot in this collection.) Only, the more we read, the more we see that happiness and perfection is only a thin veneer coating the reality of her life. (Even the splendid piano has a dark secret.) Subsequent stories introduce us to people whose lives touch those of the Idlewilds.There's Richard, now a piano tuner, whose crippling stage-fright destroyed a promising career as a concert pianist and the woman he meets whose love of her wreck of an old piano, alters his perspective on perfection. We also meet people he has known in the past and see life through their eyes. In other stories the author peels away the layers of a humdrum marriage but also reveals its close intimacy.She is particularly adept as showing us how children think and feel of the way adults behave. In every story, the more that is stripped away, the more detail is added to these people's live, so much so that I immediately had to go back to the beginning and reread each story.
Polly Samson's prose has a deceptively light touch, which to me is the mark of a great writer. She tells you all you need to know without labouring the point. If you like your fiction spare; fiction that requires readers to make the connections for themselves, then 'Perfect Lives' is for you. Sometimes bleak, but ultimately uplifting, these stories remind us of the eternal resilience of the human spirit.