Step Nagy creates a carefully structured world in an orderly era, before introducing the fault-lines which lead to that world being sundered.
A successful novelist creates a believable universe for his characters to inhabit, so that the reader can step into that imaginary place and relate to the triumphs and travails of the people who live there.
Seven – the island summer home of a wealthy American family – is the world Nagy creates in his debut novel. It’s a place where everybody – rich and poor, young and old, male and female – is explicitly aware of their role in society. The Hilsingers exist at the apex of society; nevertheless, life is sufficiently pleasant to ensure the co-operation and co-option of every islander.
This summer idyll exists out of the reach of telephones, providing the inhabitants with a refuge from the world outside. However, the outside world has a way of catching up with you and the author carefully exposes a multi-stranded story of flawed people caught up in power-struggles and betrayals, before being tested by the weight of social and political expectation.
Paradise Imperfect is a shockingly honest, searching and funny account of an American family – members of the coping classes – who decamp to Costa Rica for a year to reconnect with each another. The narrator is Margot, a hyper-articulate wife to Anthony and mom-of-three who presents herself as being bossy and autocratic. However, as the story evolves, any controlling instincts she may have are foiled by her wicked sense of humour; her relentless self-awareness; her pervasive middle-class-white-person guilt; combined with an extra layer of mom guilt. I feel that the danger with a book like this is that Costa Rica could become a glamourous but one-dimensional backdrop for self-obsessed naval-gazing. This book does not fall into that trap. The author brings you on a journey of the wonderful aspects of Costa Rica, painting a picture of a beautiful and dramatic country, with a population that has its priorities straight. The life that Margot’s family has in Seattle sounds pretty cool, but the book leaves you with a sense that Costa Rica was an alternative, a real and attractive alternative, to the (admittedly) rather wonderful two-income frenetic lifestyle that they enjoyed in Seattle. PS – By the end of the book you will be both in love with, and terrified of, their housekeeper Magda.