If you ever wanted a book to make you feel good about your life, An Almost Perfect Moment by Binnie Kirshenbaum just might be that book. Not because it’s uplifting and makes you feel good about the world in general, but because most of the characters lead such pathetic lives that there’s no way you can close the book without feeling thankful for what you have.
Perfect is the story of a group of people living in Brooklyn during the Eisenhower era. Everything revolves around a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl named Valentine who eerily resembles the Virgin Mary. Valentine is a beautiful, if slightly strange, girl who has become infatuated with the Catholic way of life and with her math teacher, a pitifully lonely and homely man named John Wosileski. John Wosileski is also the object of Joanne Clarke’s affections. Joanne is another teacher at Valentine’s high school with a pitiful life. She has a body that won’t quit, but a face scarred by acne. She spends her free time taking care of her feeble-minded father. In Joanne’s mind, John represents her last chance at a normal life.
Valentine lives with her mother, the obese Miriam, who has chosen food over the chance for happiness after being left by the love of her life, Valentine’s father. Miriam spends her day keeping house and playing Mah-Jongg with her three friends from the neighborhood known as "The Girls." When Valentine begins acting even more strangely than usual, The Girls discuss the possible causes of the young girl’s troubles, but they could never guess the situation Valentine has gotten herself into.
As a slice of life from this time period in Brooklyn, Perfect succeeds by showing us different attitudes, expressions and how a variety of people spend their time. However, the characterization and the plot don’t fare as well. All of the characters have a degree of hopelessness to them that is a bit unsettling and makes the book quite depressing. It’s hard to like characters that you pity, so likeable characters are few and far between in this book. The plot seems to be going somewhere important, but then fizzles out and leaves us wondering why we spent so much time invested in the story if it wasn’t going to reward us with anything.
Although An Almost Perfect Moment is quite readable and interesting, the lack of likeable characters and the poor ending knock it down a few notches, leaving it somewhere in the mediocre range. However, if you really want to feel good about yourself in comparison, it might be just the ticket.