Random House; 1/14/2014
Hardcover, 400 pages
Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.My Thoughts:
Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk chair, his sister arguing over the breakfast cereal, the click of his mother’s heels as she crosses the kitchen. But when the three of them leave home, driving into a dense summer fog, the morning takes an unmistakable turn. In one terrible moment, something happens, something completely unexpected and at odds with life as Byron understands it. While his mother seems not to have noticed, eleven-year-old Byron understands that from now on nothing can be the same.
What happened and who is to blame? Over the days and weeks that follow, Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Unable to trust his parents, he confides in his best friend, James, and together they concoct a plan. . . .
As she did in her debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has imagined bewitching characters who find their ordinary lives unexpectedly thrown into chaos, who learn that there are times when children must become parents to their parents, and who discover that in confronting the hard truths about their pasts, they will forge unexpected relationships that have profound and surprising impacts. Brimming with love, forgiveness, and redemption, Perfect will cement Rachel Joyce’s reputation as one of fiction’s brightest talents.
Let me start with an affirmation: Perfect by Rachel Joyce is every bit as good as her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Perfect is set in Britain and follows two different storylines. In the first it is 1972 and 11-year-old Byron Hemmings has several things he is concerned about. First his best friend, James Lowe, tells him that two seconds are going to be added to the official time to balance things on this leap year. Byron knows that two seconds may seem inconsequential, but two seconds can make a huge difference. They can mean taking a firm step or stumbling off the edge of a cliff. While James and his mother, Diana, don't seem too concerned, a day comes when those two seconds changed the life of Byron's family. While driving Byron and his younger sister to school in the fog his mother hits a child on a bicycle. The only problem is that she didn't realize it happened and only Byron saw the accident. Should he tell her?
Alternating chapters are set in the present and follow the life of Jim, a man in his fifties with OCD. Jim has been in and out of the mental health system and endured many rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. His current job is as a table washer at a local cafe. He stutters badly and has a difficult time dealing with people, although he desperately tries to get along as best as he can.
It soon becomes clear to the reader that Byron's family is much more dysfunctional than even he realizes and it doesn't take much to topple the tightly regimented routine his mother keeps in order to endure his controlling and older father, who only comes to the country estate to see his family on the weekends. In the meantime Byron and James start "Operation Perfect," a plan to protect Diana, who James worships from afar.
Joyce keeps the pace moving and I just flew through Perfect racing to see what was going to happen next in the two storylines. All of the chapters set in 1972 are seen through Byron's eyes so, while he is observant, he doesn't always recognize the reality of what is going on around him, although he does, with James's help, have some keen insights. He loves his mother and sees her through those eyes rather than how she is viewed by his classmates mothers. Jim's situation is heartbreaking as he struggles along as best he can.
I might as well admit that I was a sobbing mess at the end of this novel. Yes, it is that good. I think I even liked it more than Harold Fry and I liked Joyce's first novel a whole lot. Joyce manages to portray her character's personalities and actions while describing the settings flawlessly. Even when propelling the story forward through the voice of an 11 year-old she manages to capture a sense of depth and purpose. She slowly shows us the steps toward the both of the unfolding tragedies that seem to be looming on the horizon. Perfect is permeated with an overwhelming sadness(thus the crying going on here) though there is redemption at the end.
The writing is superb. It is perfect. I wouldn't change a word. I loved this novel.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Random House for review purposes.