Naeem Murr's "A Perfect Man" may be an affirmation by the author that this, much- sought-after 'perfect' being, doesn't exist. The novel centerspreads, highlights, and near celebrates the frailty of man; almost as if saying there is no way a man can be perfect because then, he'd be god, and 'life' would cease to happen. Isn't it the foibles and the shortcomings of man that make up what we call life? The rage, the vendetta, the jealousy, and the betrayal, are but some of the colorful etchings of man on the landscape of life as he prances his way through it, and Murr takes us through the many prancings of men in the 1950s in Pisgah, a small town on the Missourie River. Raj(ive) Travers, a half Indian man, happens to be one of those men. The novel is a coming-of-age story of Rajive and his two friends Annie and Lew who live in Pisgah, a small town, that on the surface appears mute and placid, but has repeatedly proved vulnerable and has many brutal skeletons to hide.
Raj's identity is what intrigues the reader at the outset; what is a British-accented, black male, who is not a 'negro', doing in the back waters of Missourie in the 1950s? This is the hook that Mr. Murr throws at the reader, and the hook is obviously sharp and strong as it carries the reader through the first half of the book with a quiet ease. However, it is more than just luring and colorful charcterization that sustains the reader's interest; Naeem Murr's writing has a poetic quality about it that lulls the reader into an easy rhythm that is hard to break out of. His writing is both lyrical and evocative even though the unfolding of the plot is slow and deliberate, almost like that of a suspense novel. It's as if the author is letting go of an engripped reader bit by bit, without releasing the tension.
Mr Murr has laid out a plethora of flawed characters each of who is almost likable because he is so real. Pisgah becomes the stage where human frailty is laid bare but rarely accompanied with blame or judgement. There is the father who abandons his young son, another who is a voyeur and preys even on his teenage daughter, a priest who is a drunkard, a woman who loves one man yet sleeps with another, and men at large who condone lewd and abusive behavior. Naeem Murr's novel casts an indulgent eye on all of them and lets life happen; there is rape, racism, infidelity, brutality, suicide, and depravity of the worst kind, yet it is all so acceptable and so normal in Pisgah.
"The Perfect Man" is a strange but compelling read that unfolds with unexpected twists and turns and makes for some engrossed reading. As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed this read, especially the epistolary exchange between Annie and Raj toward the end of the book which made me ponder on the title. Who is Murr's "Perfect Man", or is he a chimera, an eternal work- in- progress? Is he perhaps the evolved, tested, and tried Rajive of the M.I.T fame who we see at the end of the novel?
"No matter how great an idea...it is condemmed to live and find its ultimate expression through indiduals, character". These words of Murr may help us answer the question...perhaps.