Flashback: Perfection…and How To Achieve it

PERFECTION

And How to Achieve It

Walter Satterthwait

A few years ago, I was visiting my brother in St. Petersburg, Florida. One particular evening he had a business appointment, so I decided to go out and have a beer. The nearest bar was a small, tidy, neighborhood place, the sort of sports bar that keeps the Lakers game’s volume strangled down, while letting Wynona wail away in the background. There were a lot of those elegant neon Budweiser and Miller Lite signs lurking about, some of them elegantly blinking.

Three empty seats stood at the center of the bar. I sat down in the middle one and ordered a Sam Adams. I was about halfway through the beer when a couple walked in.

Between them, conservatively, they probably weighed about six hundred pounds. Both of them wore short plaid shorts and, in an even more unfortunate fashion statement, identical black “muscle” shirts that left their arms and wobbling shoulders bare. The male of the pair had a bad, possibly terminal, case of sunburn. His plump skin was peeling and bright shining pink. The female had no skin color at all, although of course plenty of skin.

They sat down, naturally, to my right and to my left and immediately they spilled onto my lap, from all sides. I offered to exchange seats with one of them – with either of them, or in fact with anyone else in the bar, or in the world.

No, sweat, man, ” the male said, and they continued to talk around me.

He was, alas, mistaken about the sweat – although the bar’s air conditioner seemed to be working just fine, his friend was leaking copious amounts of the stuff onto my Levis. In addition, the male kept scratching at his shoulder, which sent fluffy white flakes sailing across my field of vision, to accumulate on my knees and thighs, and in my beer. I was reminded of the blizzard scene in Doctor Zhivago.

Until that moment I had never actually wanted to kill anyone, apart from the occasional wife; but after only a very brief while I could have cheerfully killed these two people. Shot them dead and then ordered a round for the house. And then shot them dead again.

I sat there for just a few minutes more, but in those few minutes the entire plot of Perfection unfolded before me. It spilled, so to speak, onto my lap.

There’s this serial killer, see. And what he does, he seeks out clinically obese women, kills them, and then “perfects” them by slicing them down to size. He uses no special tools: a few easily obtainable scalpels, some skinning blades, a roast beef carving knife, and a ball peen hammer that serves as his “anesthetic.”

He seeks out his victims in supermarkets, stalking the aisles while he examines the passing shopping carts. If he sees an overweight woman whose cart is loaded with junk food – Little Debbie Snack Cakes, Cheetos, Hostess Twinkies – she becomes a possible.

He’s completely nuts, of course, but he’s also scrupulously fair. If a potential victim tosses some slightly more healthful food into her cart (radicchio, for example, rather than bib lettuce), he immediately disqualifies her, no matter how badly he might otherwise want to “perfect” her.

And, because he’s as much preoccupied by quality food as he is by overweight women, I thought it would be fun to throw some nice recipes in the book. I believe that mine is the only serial killer novel that includes directions for making a tasty and nutritious frittata.

After Perfection was published, I was accused of making fun of overweight people. I’m not, and I haven’t. I’m convinced that obesity in the United States is a deadly serious problem, but I’ve read enough about it to know that it’s not a problem with easy solutions. I tried to deal with it in as fair a manner as I could. One of the killer’s victims, a young woman with a fondness for Montaigne, is probably the most sympathetic character in the book.

If I’m making fun of anything, it’s the American preoccupation with slimness. As Robert B. Parker’s Susan Silverman once pointed out, this is one of the few countries in which no one thinks it’s strange to pay twenty bucks for a book on how to lose weight.

But Perfection doesn’t have any real purpose besides providing an entertaining read, with perhaps a frisson or two along the way. If it works on that level, then I’m happy.