Book review by Kate Kort
My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son is a novel that has stayed with me in the best possible way. This funny, relatable, heartfelt exploration of St. Joseph's story strikes the perfect balance of biblical knowledge and modern storytelling.
As a Jew, I appreciate how Benevento displays a deep knowledge of Jewish practices of the time, and as a reader, I love how he dives deeply into each character, connecting us to their universally human emotions. Joseph is an incredible everyman, struggling with his role in an
increasingly challenging divine plan. Maybe we never imagined that Joseph, a humble and hardworking man who marries the beautiful and divine Mary, would be miserable! But this is exactly why Benevento’s novel is so needed. The focus is almost always on Mary and Jesus, which makes sense, but Joseph clearly has his own story to tell, and it fleshes out the entire family picture. We feel for him each step of the way, and overall, his profound love for his family is his most relatable and admirable trait.
The voice and narration are spot-on; Benevento uses modern language--and a fantastic sense of humor--to perfectly balance the historical complexities of the story. Though the story of this extraordinary family is well-known to many, following the events through Joseph’s perspective gives it a fresh and unique angle. Not all of Joseph’s troubles stem from Mary’s divinity: he struggles to provide for his family, to maintain the monogamy to his wife he deeply believes is right, and to raise his son to uphold his own values. These are universal challenges, but Joseph’s special circumstances make us sympathize with him that much more. Benevento also makes us as readers ask ourselves how we would handle all that is thrown at this man.
I was not intimately familiar with the specifics of the biblical story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, so it was indeed rewarding to dive deeper into what was taken from its source and what was taken from Benevento’s creative imagination. The two are woven together seamlessly and bring the characters to vivid life, not only in their own time but also into modernity. I came to understand that very little is known about Joseph himself, and he is almost always discussed in relation to Mary and Jesus. But, as this novel shows us, he must have been a person in his own right, with thoughts and feelings we would likely relate to. He may not have been a divine being, but he was surely given his role for a reason. And I can easily see how the Joseph of this novel would be worthy of such responsibility.
I am blown away by Benevento’s breadth of biblical knowledge, which bolsters the story but never outweighs the humanity and development of the characters. I love that we are not just reading this novel with the end goal of discovering Jesus’ divinity and thus the birth of a religion; the holy family’s struggle and evolution—its coming of age—is its own story and deserves all the care and attention Benevento has given it. I feel I have come to know Joseph and his family, not as two-dimensional figures kept at a holy distance, but as I would come to know neighbors or friends.
I also didn’t expect such incredible humor from this story. I’m sure it was a difficult line to walk, giving the narrative funny, touching, and human moments, while also making sure it didn’t veer off into irreverence. It doesn’t. The humor is a welcome balance to the heaviness that sometimes weighs upon Joseph’s life, and it makes him feel even more natural and relatable as a character.
Ultimately, what Joe Benevento has created with My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son is one man’s
heartfelt determination to be the best person he can to those he loves the most. And while I may not have expected to say this about a work of biblical fiction, it was impossible to put down. I believe readers of all backgrounds, regardless of religion, will find wonder and joy in this novel.
Kate Kort was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1985. She studied English and world literature at Truman State University. She currently lives in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and four children. She is the author of three novels from Brick Mantel Books: Glass (2015) and its sequel, Tempered (2023), as well as Laika (2017).