After the wonderful, uplifting Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I was hoping for another quirky, feel good story from author Rachel Joyce. While Perfect has plenty of quirk, it’s overwhelmingly sad. Byron’s beautiful and mysterious mother, Diana is nearly perfect, but there is a small crack in her perfection, and when she unknowingly strikes a child who bicycles into the path of her car on a foggy morning, the crack begins to spread. The unraveling of this fragile woman is heartbreaking to witness, especially when it leaves her children bewildered, neglected and permanently scarred. Redemption finally comes to Byron, but only after extreme tragedy. Joyce’s descriptions of the childhood friendship of Byron and James, and James’ infatuation with Byron’s mother is especially poignant. The description of the society ladies and their snub of Beverly (who is from the wrong part of town) followed by their expressions of largesse when she becomes the object of their charity is rich. Joy is fleeting and doubled-edged in this novel–a summer daytrip to the shore that is also shadowed by Diana’s past, and days spent in laughter and dancing with a new friend who is also a blackmailer. The discovery that Byron’s break from himself has caused him to rename himself is oddly anticlimactic; there are plenty of clues. Byron’s redemption comes in the form of the bungling, large-hearted Eileen who is also deeply wounded, yet manages to hold onto and communicate hope. These characters are likely to remain with readers long after the last page is turned.  This is another book for the Beautifully Heartbreaking list.  

I counteracted the melancholy of this book by immersing myself in the sublime picture book, Holland by Charlotte Dematons. The existence of past and present co-mingle in highly detailed, double-spread land and seascapes of Holland. I “walked” every enchanted street and gazed into every window. This is a book to savor and return to–a mental holiday.

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