Perfect

January 1, 2018

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

 

As The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was my very favorite book I read last year, I was thrilled for Rachel Fry's novel Perfect. Finally, at the end of the year, my library acquired a digital copy, and after waiting through all 75 people ahead of me to read it, my turn came. The first chapter was engaging enough- set in England in the 1960's, the novel follows Byron, a tween boy, through his summer break- one that will change his life forever. He lives in the suburbs in a lovely home with his mother and sister, his father working in the city during the week and returning home on the weekends. They appear to be a perfect family- well-coifed, well-mannered, and driving a new Jaguar. Byron loves spending time with his best friend, James, who is the smart kid at school, and who he trusts with his questions and his secrets as the summer unfolds. One day, Byron's mother takes a shortcut through a less-desirable neighborhood, and in the fog, hits a little girl on a bike. She doesn't seem to notice, but Byron can't get it out of his mind, and finally convinces his mother that she did truly hit a little girl on a bike and that they should visit her family to apologize and make amends. The meeting is awkward at first, but over the next few weeks, Byron's mother and the girl's mother strike up an odd friendship. As this friendship progresses over the summer, Byron's mother moves further and further away from the image of suburban perfection that she has cultivated, and her mental health begins to unravel. It has been a lot of pressure maintaining the facade she has put on for so long, and sadly the new friend doesn't liberate Byron's mother, but rather takes advantage of her unsteady mental health, and the story reaches a horrific climax. The book alternates chapters between young Byron's voice, which is poignant in its examination of the effects parental mental illness has on an adolescent, and the voice of a character we know as Jim, who for much of the book you extrapolate is James, Byron's best friend from childhood. However, as the book nears completion, you learn that Jim is not James at all, but Byron grown, the traumatic experiences of that fateful summer having left a lasting impact on his mental health.

 

I nearly gave up on this book multiple times- the story is disappointingly slow moving, bogged down in insignificant details for chapters on end. However, it finally picked up steam about 2/3 of the way through, and the ending is superb. It nearly redeems the entire novel. Had I been the editor, I would have encouraged a serious thinning of the first 2/3 of the book, and given the author a well-deserved high five followed by a hug for her beautiful ending. If you're feeling patient, or have a string of long winter evenings on your hands, I'd recommend reading the book- the slog through the first portion is generously rewarded by the gorgeous ending. Sometimes life is like that...

 

 

 

 

Book Review of Origin by Dan Brown

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