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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.
Touching, eccentric . . . Joyce does an inviting job of setting up these mysterious circumstances, and of drawing Byron s magical closeness with Diana. Janet Maslin, The New York Tiimes
Haunting . . . compelling. Minneapolis Star Tribune
Joyce] triumphantly returns with Perfect. . . . As Joyce probes the souls of Diana, Byron and Jim, she reveals slowly and deliberately, as if peeling back a delicate onion skin the connection between the two stories, creating a poignant, searching tale. O: The Oprah Magazine
Perfect touches on class, mental illness, and the ways a psyche is formed or broken. It has the tenor of a horror film, and yet at the end, in some kind of contortionist trick, the narrative unfolds into an unexpected burst of redemption. Verdict: ] Buy It. New York
Joyce s dark, quiet follow-up to her successful debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, could easily become a book club favorite. . . . Perfect is the kind of book that blossoms under thoughtful examination, its slow tendencies redeemed by moments of loveliness and insight. However sad, Joyce s messages about the limitations of time and control, the failures of adults and the fears of children, and our responsibility for our own imprisonment and freedom have a gentle ring of truth to them. The Washington Post
There is a poignancy to Joyce s narrative that makes for her most memorable writing. NPR s All Things Considered"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-09-16
- Reviewer: Staff
An 11-year-old boy makes an error that brings tragedy to several lives, including his own, in Joyce’s intriguing and suspenseful novel. One summer day in a small English village in 1972, Byron Hemmings’s mother, Diana, is driving him and his younger sister to school when their Jaguar hits a little girl on a red bicycle. Diana drives on, unaware, with only Byron having seen the accident. Byron doesn’t know whether or not the girl was killed, however, and concocts a plan called “Operation Perfect” to shield his mother from what happened. Previously, she has always presented the picture of domestic perfection in trying to please her martinet banker husband, Seymour, and overcome her lower-class origins. After Byron decides to tell her the truth about the accident, she feverishly attempts to make amends by befriending the injured girl’s mother, but her “perfect” facade begins to splinter. Joyce sometimes strains credibility in describing Diana’s psychological deterioration, but the novel’s fast pacing keeps things tense. Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, Jim, a psychologically fragile man in his 50s, endures a menial cafe job. Joyce, showing the same talent for adroit plot development seen in the bestselling The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, brings both narrative strands together in a shocking, redemptive (albeit weepily sentimental) denouement. The novel is already a bestseller in England. (Jan.)
A boy as witness, the mother to blame
Rachel Joyce’s masterful second novel, Perfect, explores how one event can unravel a life. Byron Hemmings is an ordinary British schoolboy in 1972. He’s not the most sociable child, but Byron has a best friend in James Lowe. Like many adolescents, he’s got a curious mind. And so, when James reads in a newspaper that two seconds will be added to time, Byron becomes fixated on how, when and what the ramifications might be.
And then one morning, as his mother drives him and his sister to school, Byron sees his watch pause. In those two seconds everything changes for Byron.
Byron has witnessed an accident that no one around him, including his mother Diana, seems to have noticed. After careful deliberation, Byron mentions the accident to his mother and releases himself from the torment of carrying the secret—only to pass that torment, and then some, along to her.
Byron’s story is juxtaposed, often in alternating chapters, with the present-day experiences of a man named Jim, a former psychiatric patient who has been forced to make his way in the world after his residential facility closes. His obsessive-compulsive disorder and an unwillingness to discuss his past make it hard for some people to understand him.
It isn’t immediately clear what ties the story of an 11-year-old boy to the parallel narrative of a 55-year-old former psychiatric patient, other than geography. But as their stories unfold, they begin to intertwine in surprising, heartbreaking ways. Thanks to Joyce’s skilled character development and storytelling, readers will find it easy to lose themselves in this emotional tale.