When I read the synopsis of Emily Gould’s Perfect Tunes, I had high hopes. When I read the first line of the book I got excited: “When Laura was sixteen she wrote a perfect song.” A few lines down, the song is described as “the kind of song that sounds like it has always existed.” I thought to myself, this is going to be good. The next few pages talk about Laura never working in a restaurant or bar because she grew up working in her family’s guitar shop and how she studied English Lit in college. We then meet her friend Callie who is described as always looking put together which reminded me of my friend Carly. All of it was sounding comically familiar.
During the first part of the novel, Laura is in her early twenties and a recently moved to New York City where she wants to play guitar and write songs. Then she meets a musician named Dylan who projects a “detached intensity,” is not so nice to her, has a serious problem with alcohol and drugs, and is part of a band that is on the rise. My eyes began to roll in real time because I’ve read this too many times before. Their relationship, if one can even call it that, is so one-sided and embarrassing it was hard to read about.
Then, in chapter three, the narrative jumps out of nowhere to 9/11. Nothing wrong with time jumps, and I sort of understand using 9/11 to represent a big shift, but it is on odd transition. That being said, it was interesting that the description of people’s demeanors post 9/11 were similar to Covid: “Everyone had to acknowledge one another’s shared humanity.” Chapter six provides another huge jump – into motherhood – which is way more interesting and relatable. As Laura experiences the phases of raising a toddler (with little to no help from family or her so-called best friend Callie who quickly becomes someone who is nothing like Carly), the narrative sees a welcome (although tough) shift. Our protagonist becomes someone who has more to say, and has learned a few things, but has also been forced to give up on some of her dreams. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and authentic.
Chapter ten kicks off the most “page turning” part of the book as Laura deals with having a teenager (another big jump in the narrative), her relationship with Callie evolving yet again, and music coming back into the picture. Because I want to avoid giving anything away, I will not discuss the plot details of the this part of the book, but I can say that there is a lot happening with family, expectations, tough choices that come with parenting, and what always putting your kid first looks like.
Unfortunately I don’t have a whole lot of positive feedback about how the book ends. I don’t love Callie’s lack of understanding or how music plays a smaller more unattainable role than I had hoped. I also am unsatisfied with the ending, which was so abrupt that I found myself looking back to see if I missed something. I had not. Also, that perfect song that served as the hook for the entire narrative is briefly mentioned again but we never get details. What was the song about? Who or what inspired it? What was the title? What was is it supposed to represent? Gould never answers these questions which is beyond frustrating. I hope that next time she decides to write a book about music, she remembers the importance of the finale. And the encore.
- We never get the name of Dylan’s dad. We only learn his mother’s name – Daisy.
- It is amazing how unreliable Laura’s family is regarding her child. I don’t know what to say.
“Some people were into Star Wars, or video games, or dancing or acting or writing. Some people were into music.”
“The price of her mom’s love, the blood-warm ocean she swam in constantly, was this kind of heightened surveillance of her feelings.”
“Nothing took care of itself.”
“If you really wanted to succeed, you’d use everything in your arsenal.”