“Life is messy and terrifying, but it is also crazy beautiful. You taught me that. You showed me that my wreckage could be perfect in its own way, that all those little cracks in my soul just made me stronger, more beautiful. Truly and authentically me. You taught me what it means to truly live.”
Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
In a world where everything is run through a filter, where standards of beauty seem impossible, perfection, or the need for perfection, feels onerous, in that same world, success is honored, while there is no deference paid to failure. No one posts their failures or mistakes on Instagram or Facebook. Instead, our most perfect selves are delivered. These ideas belie Catherine Cowles’s poignant Perfect Wreckage. While it’s not presented through the realm of our world, instead it’s individuated through her hero, Crosby, and her heroine, Kenna, its message is still important, even more so as readers see it played out through their lives. For me, that is the power of Cowles’s newest book, showing us that the true beauty of life is found in the wreckage of our mistakes because they make us more humane.
As I’ve explained in past Catherine Cowles reviews, I am constantly bowled over by the quietude of Cowles’s storytelling. Its truths whisper over the page as you fall into the heaviness of the story’s plotting. And there is heaviness in Cowles’s stories. In Perfect Wreckage, Kenna’s characterization is the most difficult. It’s also the best representation of the book’s message. Kenna’s past is rife with the mistakes of her mother and her own personal choices. In the small town where she grew up, these mistakes have been used to characterize her in a way that she seeks to mitigate by better choices and the mask of perfection. No one works harder than Kenna. No one holds themselves to a higher standard than Kenna. No one is more resolute in wanting to lead a safe life than Kenna. And all of this is a part of Kenna’s mask. By crafting Kenna in this manner, Cowles pokes at our own sense of control. She reminds us, through the course of Kenna’s journey, that our failures and the things out of our control make us human and interesting. As Kenna embraces this, Cowles rewards the story with a treasured ending. Even in the midst of Kenna’s troubles, there is this quiet resolve to find her happy ending. It’s not overwrought; instead, there’s a peace that comes to Kenna and to Cowles’s story when Kenna realizes that the “wreckage” of our life is perfect in itself. For me, that truth hit me right in my heart.
Cowles also lays this truth out in Kenna’s seeming opposite, Crosby. At the surface, Crosby is an adventure seeker, not afraid to embrace physical challenges. He will willingly throw himself off the face of a mountain or out of an airplane. It seems as though he’s living except that he isn’t really. He hides behind the mask of his adventure. This is where Kenna and Crosby are more alike than dissimilar. For Crosby, he hides from emotional challenges because his past choices changed him. While Kenna pursues outward perfection, Crosby avoids the appearance of it, and he does this to avoid his emotions. As Kenna inflitrates his heart, Cowles creates this delicious tension within Crosby that makes you ache. As he works through his emotions, Cowles leaves her readers suspended, wondering if Crosby and Kenna can find their happy ending. These are the moments of Cowles’s storytelling that I adore because this is life. It’s messy and painful in the midst of the possibility for joy and love. She compels me to adore her stories because they speak gently to my own insecurities and heartbreaks, and this is the mark of a skilled storyteller.
Lastly, one of the main parts of Cowles’s romances is the suspense of her stories. There is always some part of the story that requires ferreting out whether it’s a true mystery or a character-specific challenge. In Perfect Wreckage, there is more of this. Let me tell you. You will detest the villains of this story, which is delightful. On the one hand, you hate that her main characters must journey into this pain, but on the other hand, it keeps you suspended and intrigued in Cowles’s story. Once I began reading Perfect Wreckage, the only reason I put it down was work. Even then, I found myself sneaking peeks of it between teaching classes and bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t just sit and finish it. That happens for me with each Catherine Cowles story.
Over and over again, Cowles illustrates her capacity to craft stories that slay your heart. Perfect Wreckage is more of that. I had been waiting impatiently for Kenna and Crosby because I wanted Crosby to mess up Kenna’s life. Instead, what Cowles has done with this story is to show us that we are all messy, that we all need people to break our masks. She reminds us that perfection is made more perfect in the wreckage of our choices. That love and passion are stil available to us all when we authentically live our lives.
In love and romance,