A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story

By Isabel Gillies

Isabel Gillies figured out how to write. I am writing this opening after reading the first three chapters, so my judgment may be premature. But having moved back to her parents’ apartment with her two toddlers in tow, she does a good job of explaining the feelings of regression that accompany returning to the house where you lived as a child and where you are no longer the woman of the house. It is not just the stress and trauma of relatively sudden marital abandonment that disables the nesting extinct, the return to the childhood environment reinforces the disability. This was the home where she was a child and thus being a dependent child is the coping pattern within this environment and she is thus at a crossroads where her adult Self comes face to face with her younger Self.

Showing Versus Telling

Gillies used the parallels in her life to understand and explain her process. She is an actress with a small recurring role on Law and Order SVU. During her early months of recovery, her character was experiencing some of the same trauma of separation and impending divorce. There is a catharsis in the scene where she asks her onscreen husband for an explanation—something she felt unable to do in real life. Then she receives some of the dishes she had left behind when she moved back to New York. Her still-husband had packed them up and sent them as she had requested; they had been wedding gifts. Every piece arrived broken. Life is broken, marriage is broken and the dishes she had loved were broken.
There is a great tension in moving home as an adult with toddlers. Tension between parent-grandparents and adult child-parents. Tension in the sudden lack of peace that disrupts a more quiet retirement. Tension in the sacrifices made in that long-awaited retirement. Guilt for disrupting the retirement and feelings of failure. And in New York City it is apparently a law that above ground homes with children must have barred windows. So Gillies parents had to have bars installed on their windows, reinforcing the feelings of imprisonment with failure, the return home and the same feelings of new imprisonment felt by her parents. She sums this up beautifully in a scene where her mother sits eating plain pasta. Plain. No sauce. No butter. Plain. Her older son disrupts the scene with his playing, but otherwise it is quiet. Gillies’ questions remain unspoken as she asks her mother if she ruined her life and wonders about how much of a disappointment she must be. There was a steely tension in the room, but as Gillies points out no one could yell because there was a four-year old present. The feeling of burdened helplessness is raw.
Unlike in her first book where she wandered into tangents of unnecessary background and description, Gillies now details these events with minimal embellishment. The emotions need no additional description, the paralleling events do the work for her and she has grown enough as a writer that she now seems to understand this. She is now telling the story rather than showing the scenery.

Character Development

Gillies understands that to grow she must look at herself and her actions in the breakdown of her marriage. Though this was her first marriage, she had a history of being dumped; why? She wants a new love and yet she understands the concerns; is she actually feeling that she needs love, needs a man? She now has an awareness that to need can be needy, but being honest she admits that she wants.
In chapter 14 she walks away from her dream of reconciliation. But it seems that for her it had always been mere dream—fantasy—because she did nothing other than passively hope and dream (at least according to the book). She did not learn about Standing, what it is, what it means, how or why to do it. Her dream seems fanciful because she does not learn what to expect. What drives an affair? What differences—if any—can she make? What does it mean to Stand, to Pave the Way?
Now that doesn’t mean that at the same point in time she would not have made a different decision and held onto her dream of reconciliation. But she understands that in giving up her dream she also forfeits the positive benefits in rebuilding and learning together to heal as a couple. But in doing that she is not giving up growth and development, she is simply choosing an alternate route.

She is at a disadvantage in dating because, as she herself admits, she was still hurt and sensitive. She started dating too soon and should have given herself more time to recover. But in our culture there is a pressure to couple-up—at least for those people who have done it before. I don’t mean couples pressuring new singles but that people pressure those they know are traditionally couplers. Isabel Gillies is a coupler and so there was pressure from her circle of friends (as well as herself) to prepare for recoupling.
…I was, if not married, a marriage kind of person. I didn’t want to date. I still thought the deep-purple, electrifying, all consuming and painful love was the only kind.1
Clearly she is a romantic and one who has the Hollywood idea of love. But she does not stop with that. She has become aware that such visions are not the sort of loves that end well for her and she goes on within the same paragraph… but maybe I would find some other less dramatic kind of love. Maybe civilized, mutual, sustaining love. Socks and shoes love. And maybe that would be real love.2
Finally she has become aware of what was so painfully obvious to readers of her first book. She loses herself in the romance of big love. She falls for deep artistic types—interior brooders—while she is their opposite, light and sunshine and focused on external sensors.
The readers may easily come to such conclusions on their own, but in Gillies’ recognition we see the character arc as she recognizes her patterns, the patterns that kept getting her dumped. I must have needed all those storms…3 Finally she sees it! She’s made passing references to being dramatic, but they seemed dismissive, as though it were no big deal other than an interesting character trait. Now she begins to look at the trait for what it means—good and bad.

This review will be continued in the nest post.


  1. Gillies, Isabel. A Year and Six Seconds. New York: Hyperion, 2011. p 108.
  2. —p 108.
  3. —p 114.


Series NavigationBook Review: Happens Every Day An All-Too True StoryBook Review: A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story – Part II


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