How many of us have ever known a Polly Perfect? Or, more to the point, how many of us have desperately wished it so while insisting we did? Polly is beautiful, intelligent, rich and sweet to terrible in the blink of an eye – all qualities that can quickly get a fellow into trouble if he fails to keep his feet under him. Who hasn't tread willingly into that heady fog with their organs in disarray? But the mystery is more than half the fun, so it goes that once our minds are set we are doomed -be she Aphrodite, Nemesis, or just an eccentric girl alone in the desert- to blindly filter out all but those signals hoisting our desire.
That's not to say Polly Perfect is quite as simple as that. Nor is it to suggest that the woefully destitute Herodotus Shapiro is in any way “on the prowl” when his car breaks down in the desert that has, to his surprise, seen the recent addition of a beautiful white mansion with a snowman standing unmolested in the noon-day heat. No, Herodotus is far too preoccupied with his penchant for self loathing to be totally distracted by the pursuit of pleasure. He has lost everything: his home, his livelihood, his love – all that defined him as a man - so much so that a stalled jalopy seems to be the coup de grâce at the end of a universal punishment. Fortunately for him Polly finds his type irresistible.
There is no need for perambulation on the dangers posed by those with nothing to lose coupled to the allure of those with seemingly everything to give, and it is into this environment that Herodotus haltingly entrenches himself. Like a more lighthearted take on one of the many lessons in Frank Herbert's science fiction masterpiece God Emperor of Dune, Goldin eloquently exposes and dissects the human flaw of reverently clinging to others while severely devaluing one's self, a condition he seems to understand well. He expresses it superbly in his Goldin Rules:
“Just as a child needs its parents, so does an immature society need its gods.
Freedom is always hard to bear, and the weight of self-responsibility can only be
carried after a certain level of sophistication has been attained. “
Polly, in her own expressive manner, puts it thus:
“I mean, think of it. You might be a proud parent who doesn't mind tying your four-
year-old kid's shoes for him. But when that kid turns forty and still demands you
tie his shoes, it gets tiresome. You sorta wish he'd learn to do things for himself
and leave you alone. “
Helping advance the narrative is a cast of characters that confound, provoke and ultimately inspire Herodotus as he moves throughout an increasingly perplexing landscape. From the innocently seductive and unfailingly dutiful maidservant Fifi to the unpropitious Mr. Hoag to the fellow wounded seekers he meets along the way, Herodotus finds himself surrounded by a reality that he neither accepts nor wishes to deny. An enticing mix that forces the worldly victim and would be zealot to learn a few hard lessons as he finds his own level of sophistication. Believer beware indeed.
Polly! is an entertaining mix of irreverence and subtle profundity. At barely over one hundred pages it makes an excellent book for a relaxing weekend read. You can find this book, along with other novels by Stephen Goldin at www.stephengoldin.com.