Review: A Year and Six Seconds

A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story
Isabel Gillies
Hyperion-Voice
$21.99, hardcover, 256 pages
Also available as Ebook (price varies)
Release date: Aug. 2, 2011

When her marriage ends, Isabel Gillies finds herself and her two young sons back in New York, living with her parents. Her memoir, A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story, recounts her struggles to put the pieces of their lives if not back together again, at least together enough to take on a new shape.

Gillies’ voice is that of a close friend, and the memoir reads as if the reader and Gillies were catching up over a cup of coffee. The tone is engaging. Memoirs can often read as if the author is dumping all her dirty laundry onto the page for readers to revel in and for the author to take pride in. Although there’s something to be said for the “no shame” approach, Gillies takes a different tack.

She retells the initial days of moving back to the family home with the right mix of full disclosure and privacy. She cops to feelings of embarrassment about living with her parents and how it affects their lives, but doesn’t dwell too much on it. This is not a “woe is me” memoir. Gillies never panders to her readers, offering clichéd advice about surviving divorce or jumping into the dating pool again.

Instead, Gillies matter-of-factly describes the events of the year after her marriage ended, without excessive hand wringing or wallowing. She doesn’t whitewash events either. She’s the first to admit when she’s incapable of rising above feelings of jealousy, anger and complete sorrow. The emotions of the past are still fresh in her mind, but the perspective of time lets Gillies write about them with a slight sense of distance.

What comes through most of all is her love for her two sons. The move from a suburban college town in Ohio to Manhattan couldn’t have been easy for the family. But Gillies and her parents make the most of it for the boys. Whether it’s turning getting dressed in winter gear into a game with waiting chairs or finding the perfect nanny through Craigslist, Gillies writes with honesty about single motherhood. She has a strong support system and acknowledges it as helping get her through the year.

Details of the marriage’s end are left to Gillies’ previous book, Happens Every Day: An All-True Story. A Year and Six Seconds spends its time looking at how divorcing parents try to remain a family across state lines and how Gillies is able to accept that reconciliation is out of the question and she wouldn’t want it anyway.

The six seconds of the title refers something a friend told Gillies – it takes six seconds to fall in love. As she explains, six-second love isn’t “a fleeting thought about how someone is hot, and I’m not talking about a crush; I’m talking about knowing with certainty that you could spend your life with this person. In an instant, not only are you down the aisle, but you have had the babies, you have reached old age, and you are buried side by side under a tree for all eternity. In six seconds, you see it all. And you feel it; you feel the love that will make your whole life shift. Six-second love is real, but it doesn’t always get you to happily ever after.”

Gillies gets a second chance at six-second love toward the end of the memoir, about a year chronologically after her first marriage ends. This isn’t a spoiler: Gillies tells readers up front that there’s a second love in her life. But the memoir doesn’t follow Gillies on madcap adventures in dating. She talks about her first post-marriage kiss (a true New York moment) and some of the dates she went on, but they’re not important to who she is now and Gillies rightly leaves details out of the memoir. Some readers may want more from the book in this regard, but the love story of the subtitle is really about Gillies’ love for her sons and (as corny as it can sound) for herself.

If the memoir had ended before Gillies’ second marriage or even before she met her husband, you have the feeling she and the boys were going to be okay. And you look forward to the next time you can get together over coffee.

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