All it takes are two seconds for everything to change forever in the second novel from Rachel Joyce whose debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, was one of my favorites of the last few years.
In 1972, it was necessary to add two seconds to the world atomic clock to make it more accurate and eleven year-old Byron and his classmate, James, privileged English schoolboys both, become fascinated with the concept. Byron lives on a country estate with his little sister and his lovely mother, Diana. She is the Perfect of the title and the centerpiece of the book. Byron's strict father, Seymour, works in finance in London. He only visits on weekends but his stern, demanding presence is felt even in his absence.
The two seconds come into play when Diana drives the children to school on a foggy morning and goes through a "bad" neighborhood. Just as Byron believes he sees the hands on his watch go back two seconds, Diana may or may not have hit a little girl on her bicycle. Byron is certain she has and becomes obsessed with trying to protect Diana.
There is also a second, present-day narrative that takes place alongside the Byron and Diana storyline. It is the story of Jim, who at 16 was committed to a mental hospital where he spent most of his life. However, when it closed, Jim was released to fend for himself, something of which he is barely capable. Now in his 50's, he is held prisoner by his own OCD and works wiping down tables in an unpopular cafe and living in a camper van.
Does this all sound like a lot to take in? It is and I haven't even gotten to the meat of the Diana storyline and it gets as meaty as a butcher's shop. So if there's one problem with the book, it's that it can be a little hard to follow. But here's the kicker: it pays off. Stay with it. Be rewarded. Thank me later.
I say Rachel Joyce is two for two and has avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.