Girl with songs in her heart moves from Ohio to New York City. Girl meets guitarist with hypnotic eyes and a deep voice. Girl falls hard for guy, who falls harder—for the drugs and alcohol that permeate the “rise to stardom.” Perfect Tunes begins here but isn’t just about the connection between Laura and Dylan, fueled by lust, alcohol and drugs. The tragedy of Dylan’s death not long after the 9/11 attacks turns Laura’s life into one she never could’ve envisioned.
Pregnant at 22, grieving the death of someone she barely knew but was admittedly obsessed with, Laura sets aside her dreams of recording an album to become a mother to Marie. Duty engulfs her, and in a blink, 14 years pass, her musical talent relegated to teaching others or playing classes for babies. When teenaged Marie starts experiencing some dark moods similar to Dylan’s, Laura is drawn back to the past as she wrestles with where she is in the present.
Author Emily Gould covers much ground through Laura’s and Marie’s relationships and inner dialogues, ruminating on how we see ourselves, from that euphoric anything-can-happen attitude that accompanies youth to the mundanity common to all lives. The trappings of Gould’s writing are millennial, but her portrayal of the desire for self-actualization and understanding is universal. This ground isn’t new in fiction, certainly, but Laura’s and Marie’s voices each stand out for their honesty and poignancy. Gould’s women are as fearless as they are fearful, as full of bravado as nagging doubt and depression. The crush of expectations and the need to perform (in all senses of the word) never let up, and Laura’s drive to return to music gets a kick in the pants just as Marie is grappling with life’s hard edges.
Emotional and at times cringingly self-conscious, Perfect Tunes explores the mother-daughter bond through a distinctly youthful lens. Gould’s strength lies in her powers of observation, her ability to wrap words around a specific time and place in the lives of these particular women.