After becoming a fan of Joyce's work through her first novel, I eagerly anticipated the chance to read her second. It was quickly clear that in this book, the author is telling a very different story. In Harold Fry, the reader is given a sense almost from the beginning that THIS story, no matter its twists and turns, will end up okay. Perfect starts with a very different tone - the reader knows right away that this is not going to be a happily-ever-after.
It is a book about brief moments - about tiny, seemingly insignificant events, which alter the course of the world for one young boy during one long summer. Joyce unfolds her story slowly, with chapters alternating between Byron, the young boy, and Jim, a troubled adult man who remembers that summer as well. These alternating viewpoints can at times make the narrative seem a bit stiff, but as the novel progresses it becomes clear why each is critical to the ultimate resolution.
"It is indeed a small thing, that Eileen prefers frost to snow, but it is in these, he realizes, these smallnesses, that make up the big things. Besides, the big things in life do not present themselves as such. They come in the quiet, ordinary moments - a phone call, a letter - they come when we are not looking, without clues, without warning, and that is why they floor us. And it can take a lifetime, a life of many years, to accept the incongruity of things; that a small moment can sit side by side with a big one, and become part of the same." (p. 270)
Joyce tackles a myriad of big topics - class and society, guilt and innocence, mental illness, love and sacrifice - and weaves a tale that is intimate and personal. Readers can't help but feel sympathy for Byron, his mother, and Jim, as each character is forced to deal with events that are clearly more than they can handle. That the tragedy near the end, which almost feels inevitable, does not leave the novel with a sense of despair is a tribute to the author's skill.
This is an excellent book, and while some fans of Joyce's work may be expecting something different, I believe this novel is ultimately just as powerful as her first. This author has found a place on my "must-read" list. Recommended.
(I recieved a review copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.)