A feature by Rebecca Lentjes
Ashley’s aversion to plot, to “eventfulness,” makes it nearly impossible to say what Perfect Lives is “about.” It possesses none of the tropes of grand opera (betrayal, love, tuberculosis), only the ordinary themes of the American everyday: money, confusion, forgetfulness, time. “They come to talk, they pass the time. They soothe their thoughts with lemonade.” One can imagine Isolde pondering these words in her mathematical mind, the neighbors sipping lemonade before heading home to watch television.
Most of what we can know about Robert Ashley can be found in Gann’s book, but what we can’t know is to be found in the operas. In Perfect Lives, Ashley’s memories are organized into anecdotes organized into episodes that fade away at the end of the day like the sky in Isolde’s backyard. The lines between the everyday and the infinite, between the known and unknown, blur together like the light and darkness along the horizon . . .