There’s something about titling your book Perfect that is just asking for trouble. Whole reviews could be written about the book that only focus on how misguided or otherwise the choice of title was. When you’re following up a debut like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry then it’s really brave to essentially hand the critics a stick with which to beat you. But of course, Joyce needn’t worry. She writes like a dream.
Leap seconds have been added to time periodically and irregularly since two of them were first added in 1972. That first addition is the crux of Joyce’s gorgeous second novel. Childhood friends Byron and James are obsessed with this addition, when it will happen, whether they’ll know it’s happening, if it will be on the news that it happened, and so on and so forth, as only the young and eternally inquisitive can be. But the addition of those two seconds upend Byron’s perfect life, setting into a motion a series of events that will leave him entirely unravelled. But was time really to blame?
Joyce really knows how to nail metaphors and similes. Perfect is all but overflowing with them, and each one is immaculate, carefully worded and precisely placed. “She offered a series of waves, like polishing an invisible window. In return, the women gave tight smiles that appeared to stick to their mouths and hurt” is just one example of hundreds that made me silently awestruck by her way with words. This book also captures the truth that when you’re a child, you believe everything in your family is normal. Byron’s home life is clearly anything but, however he tells it as if it’s all just fine. That disparity is brilliantly and troublingly conveyed.
That said, there are some plot elements which caused a raised eyebrow, mostly revolving around an organ concert. I struggled to believe that events would have gone quite that far. Proper cynics will probably harp on about the coincidence at the end of the book as well, but to those hard hearted souls, I say pish. The final pages of this novel are just so warm and rich and beautiful it made me forgive any and all of its teeny tiny flaws.