Rachel Joyce’s masterful second novel, Perfect, explores how one event can unravel a life. Byron Hemmings is an ordinary British schoolboy in 1972. He’s not the most sociable child, but Byron has a best friend in James Lowe. Like many adolescents, he’s got a curious mind. And so, when James reads in a newspaper that two seconds will be added to time, Byron becomes fixated on how, when and what the ramifications might be.

And then one morning, as his mother drives him and his sister to school, Byron sees his watch pause. In those two seconds everything changes for Byron.

Byron has witnessed an accident that no one around him, including his mother Diana, seems to have noticed. After careful deliberation, Byron mentions the accident to his mother and releases himself from the torment of carrying the secret—only to pass that torment, and then some, along to her.

Byron’s story is juxtaposed, often in alternating chapters, with the present-day experiences of a man named Jim, a former psychiatric patient who has been forced to make his way in the world after his residential facility closes. His obsessive-compulsive disorder and an unwillingness to discuss his past make it hard for some people to understand him.

It isn’t immediately clear what ties the story of an 11-year-old boy to the parallel narrative of a 55-year-old former psychiatric patient, other than geography. But as their stories unfold, they begin to intertwine in surprising, heartbreaking ways. Thanks to Joyce’s skilled character development and storytelling, readers will find it easy to lose themselves in this emotional tale.

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