Monday, December 30, 2013

When Even the Smallest Moments in Time Make All the Difference

Perfect by Rachel Joyce


Byron Hemmings is a clever boy with an equally clever best friend James Lowe. When they hear about adding an extra two seconds, the idea astounds them both. But then Byron notices his watch moving backwards at the exact time the accident happened, and nothing will ever be the same. Together, these boys attempt to put things right during that spring and summer of 1972. 40 years later, the mental institution that Jim has been in and out of since he was 16 is closing its doors. Now Jim has to figure out how to live in the real world, and how to protect it from any harm he might cause. In this fascinating story, told in chapters that alternate between 1972 and 40 years later, Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) once again takes us on a uniquely personal journey in her second novel "Perfect".

What makes this book different from her first novel, is that although Harold Fry's cross-country trek includes one of self discovery while he goes to a woman he knows is going to die, there is throughout the book a feeling of a positive journey. Here, however, from the onset of this story, the childhood innocence of the actions of Byron and James is leading towards something dark and sinister. On the other hand, while this is unfolding, the parallel story of Jim 40 years later has a more hopeful feel to it, despite his painful OCD and reclusive manner. In addition to this change in atmosphere, Joyce also had to slightly change her style of writing. This is because the parallel stories take place during different times. But while the chapters about the boys are told in past tense, and the ones about Jim are in present tense, she still remains true to the third person voice that worked so well with Harold Fry.

However, there is a lot that we recognize from Harold Fry in this story. I found that in her previous novel, Joyce was writing a type of coming-of-age story, despite the advanced age of the protagonist. Here too we get this, but this time Joyce investigates this in several different ways. To begin with, both the boys Byron and James go through an experience that takes them into a type of adulthood that they were not prepared for. This is equally true of Byron's mother Diane, whose reaction and actions after the accident are pivotal to how she changes. In fact, practically everyone involved with or even associated with the accident have some type of epiphany or another that changes them all forever. But that's not all since Jim too, goes through his own coming-of-age with his story (which I cannot elaborate upon without spoiling it for you).

It seems then, that this is Joyce's central theme and one which she sees in far more than just the single dimension of a child experiencing something which begins their process of growing up. Instead, Joyce seems to look at this in many different ways, as if it is a multi-faceted diamond that will give off a different set of rainbow colors with each tiny turn in the light. Here too, she uses her elegant prose, which takes on an almost lyrical lilt to it when she describes the spring and summer of 1972. This gets a slightly harsh edge to it in the chapters about Jim, which take place in the harsher light of the commerciality of today's Christmas season. But what really got me - and what brought tears to my eyes - was how Joyce brings these two tales together, in an emotional climax that I dare you to be stoic about. And with it, we get yet another aspect of how seemingly insignificant incidents can stay with a person as well as change their lives forever.

I have wracked my brain to find some kind of criticism of this book, and I have to say that I just can't find anything. The only thing I can think of is that I didn't get to read this sooner. That's only because if I had, it would certainly have gotten into my list of favorite 2013 books. With this second novel "Perfect", Rachel Joyce has firmly shown just how talented she is, and I can hardly wait to read what she gives us next. I can't give it less than a full five stars out of five and highly recommend it (and suggest you have a box of tissues on hand when you get towards the end).




"Perfect" by Rachel Joyce, published by Random House Publishing Group, released in the UK via Doubleday on July 4, 2013 and in the US on January 14, 2014. "Perfect" is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, other eReader formats from Kobo, as an iBook or audiobook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), or from an IndieBound store near you.

 
I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reader's copy of this book via NetGalley for this review, which originally appeared the website Curious Book Fans. This review also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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