Albert Bonniers förlag, 2014.
Reviewed by B.J. Epstein in SBR 2014:2
Review Section: Fiction
Mara Lee’s novel Future Perfect is hard to describe. It’s about outsiders, creativity, challenging boundaries, and finding one’s identity, although some of the elements of the story are rather far-fetched, pushing the tale almost into the realm of magical realism.
Dora is a stunningly beautiful, freespirited, but not terribly intelligent seamstress in a southern Swedish village who aims to produce a collection of clothing for people with unusual or disabled bodies. After a scandalous affair with a disabled man as a teenager, she gives birth to Lex. Like his mother, Lex has artistic talent, but that is where their similarities end. He has little patience with Dora, and he ends up having to do much of the work taking care of their home and of his younger brother, talented singer and mama’s boy Trip. Rounding off the group is Chandra, a girl from a nearby village, who likewise doesn’t fit in, and who arouses passionate feelings in both boys.
This quote from early in the novel accurately summarises Lex’s feelings about his life and his mother: ‘Lex has no intention of telling Dora about the drawings, or that he was sent to the school psychologist. She wouldn’t understand anyway. Taking another name when he had just turned seven, Lex realised he was already streets ahead of his mother in terms of intellectual power and capacity…Even uttering the words Dora and intelligence in the same sentence is sacrilege. As thick as a brick, but her dazzling exterior corrodes people’s judgment. She’s still beautiful, beautiful enough for the rumour mill to crank up again at regular intervals.’ Dora’s dumb beauty is the reason why the villagers accept some of the stranger aspects of her behaviour; the novel subtly suggests that those who are good-looking get away with more, even if that amounts to poor parenting, than those who are less attractive. Dora seems to have good intentions, but is unable to take proper care of her children or herself and, what’s more, doesn’t understand why she should; she assumes others will fill in as necessary. And sometimes they do.
Lex often appears to have little sympathy for his mother, or for himself. He just gets on with his life and does what needs to be done. When a teacher takes an interest in Lex’s drawings, the young boy has trouble understanding that he has a special talent, though he does know that his creativity sets him, and his mother and brother, apart. But he doesn’t appreciate his mother’s artistry; rather, he looks down on her and mainly finds fault: ‘[Her dress is] virtually in tatters. There’s a long rip running from the ankle up to the knee. Above the knee. By accident, Lex sees all the way up to her underwear, pale lavender in colour. There’s a yellowish, kidneyshaped stain showing through the thin fabric. He averts his gaze so fast that he cricks his neck.’
It is hard to know whether the reader is expected to empathise with Dora’s lack of concern for what other people think or with Lex and Trip, who are left to fend for themselves, or both, but it isn’t a surprise when Dora’s self-involved, carefree way of living leads to her going to a psychiatric hospital and Trip to social services.
Mara Lee is also a poet and a translator of poetry, and her feel for language comes through clearly. Her words seem very carefully chosen in this novel. Future Perfect can be somewhat slow-moving and thus frustrating, but readers who like to luxuriate in details will enjoy its unhurried pace. Ultimately, this novel seems to comment more on the role of creativity in human life than on the specific, unrealistic human lives in the story. Lee shows both the advantages and disadvantages of an attractive appearance, intelligence, and creative talents, but sometimes it seems that regardless of what people do, they disappoint themselves and one another.