CaptureThere is a setting on my camera called vivid. It transforms ordinary landscape pictures into dazzling displays of colour and light, suitable for calendars. Impressive at first, the longer you look at them the more you realize they are manipulated through saturation, and eventually they just seem too contrived. Which brings me to Judith McNaught’s 1993 single title romance Perfect.

At 674 pages, this is a hefty and leisurely read. The set up alone takes 120 pages, and while all that character development and back story is interesting, it doesn’t seem necessary to the actual romance. Once our couple meet, it’s a standard ‘good girl kidnapped by bad boy comes down with Stockholm syndrome’ plot. Julie is not just a good girl, she’s a twenty-six-year-old virgin school teacher, and a minister’s daughter. As for Zack, he’s a handsome, rich, movie star/director, on the run after escaping from a prison with a sadistic warden. Zack was jailed for murdering his wife.

A glitch in the escape plan leaves Zack scrambling for transportation, and he charms his way into getting a ride with naive Julie. He can’t let her go anytime soon, as part of his plan involves convincing the authorities he’s escaped to Canada. Apparently the border was a lot looser back then, and Canada is a safe haven for escaped convicts. Zack is not interested in proving his innocence. He just plans to hide out for a week until the heat’s off (?), or at least stuck at the Canadian border, then skip to his yacht in Mexico. Meanwhile, it’s the two them in a luxurious isolated mountain cabin. He’s been in prison for five years, she decides he is a victim of circumstances, and one thing leads to another.

Of course the first sexual encounter is mind-blowing. It’s a mystery to me why so many writers skip the delights of overcoming new partner awkwardness and learning how someone responds. Although the sex is instantly perfect, Julie’s faith in Zack’s innocence comes and goes, leading to various complications and suspicions on both sides.

Zack’s innocence is eventually proven, in a most unsatisfactory way, and Julie’s faith in him is proven to him. Relieved of any need to actually trust each other, they decide to marry, but must overcome her father and related various small town wedding challenges. At this point the story descends into farce,  but one feels compelled to see it out. Narrative and non-narrative plugs promoting adult reading programs for women add pathos. Early in the book they are a touch of realism, but later they seem out of place.

Perfect has competent writing, and I’ve spent worse hours in a bubble bath, but after all the careful crafting of the characters at the outset, I was disappointed in how the story proceeded. I’m not confident this is a well matched or stable couple, and by the end neither hero nor heroine had my sympathy. Perfect is big, bold, and ultimately does not live up to its promise.