Book Review: Paradise Imperfect
To say I was excited to read Paradise Imperfect is an understatement. I don’t recall when I first read Margot Page’s work, but I do know that her “Dear Drudgery” blogs for Brain, Child have become one of my favorite regular reads.
Anyone who knows me realizes this is saying a lot. I read incessantly, but Margot’s work speaks even louder to me than most good parenting writing. She’s one of those people who writes the words I usually just hear in my head. She says out loud what most people brush under the rug of silence, and she is so funny in the telling that I find myself laughing out loud. And then I often cry in recognition of a shared truth.
So I brought plenty of expectation to the reading of Paradise Imperfect: An American family moves to the Costa Rican mountains. Margot sets the reader up for an epiphany search right away. She opens the book in prologue, sitting in a hammock in Costa Rica, where she’d moved six months ago with her husband and three children. We are there taking in the scenery with her as she tells us how she got there, seeking enlightenment—and today might be the day. Bam, I want some enlightenment, too.
I listen closely as Margot backs up in the first three chapters. I’m thrilled to get her back story, to know what it took to change her family’s life: a leap of faith, a growing weariness of being a working mother, dreams of open space and time with her loved ones, and one hilarious pro/con poster-board exercise that helps convince three kids to leave their friends behind. She masterfully lets us into her life, showing us the surprising story of how she and her husband became the family they are now: “If you’re thirty-six, professional, and can hear the clock ticking, unplanned single motherhood is kind of edgy and hip and brave. At twenty-four and barely employed, I was just tacky. It wasn’t what my people did.”
Like all of the best memoir writers, we really get Margot by the end of chapter three, and we have a clear idea of the major players. We know she’s conflicted about being a working mother; that she wants her husband to share his seemingly non-existent feelings; and she wants to teach her kids about how the rest of the world lives, outside the Seattle-bubble. We also know she wants to slow down and figure out how that live-in-the-moment stuff works.
And then Margot packs us with her and takes us to those Costa Rican mountains. And reader, you are in for some laughter, some funny and touching cross-cultural mishaps, some bird-watching and avocado eating, introductions to new friendships with Costa Rican women, and some great side-trip adventures to neighboring countries.
I took this book in slowly while I slogged through many work deadlines, and I relished escaping into Margot’s search for mid-life meaning. Sometimes I hooted with laughter as the family struggled through the tribulations of leaving all that they knew behind. Often I read fast, wanting to see how Margot and her husband resolved their very different ways of looking at the world. The chapter where her husband actually became like Margot, emotional and thinking every thought until it died an unnatural death, well, that one was one of my favorites.
I have no desire to give Margot’s epiphanies away. Just know that I cried at the end of several later chapters, and I was so sad to wave goodbye to my new friend Margot as the book winded to its sweet end. Her epiphanies became my epiphanies, which always happens in the memoirs I love. During these short winter days, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Paradise Imperfect yourself. Take yourself to Costa Rica and bury yourself in a warm climate every time you crack the cover to read another bit of her tale. Later come back here and let me know which epiphany spoke loudest to you.