Is This The Time Of Your Life?
It should come as no surprise by now that I’m not a fan of fluff. Still, I bow to the need for light reading in all of our lives and, besides, MommyTrackd’s CEO really wanted me to read this one. Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life is very light reading. But it’s got an important redeeming feature: it taps into a familiar and favorite fantasy.
Almost 90 years ago, in a poem we all learned in high school, Robert Frost contemplated the road not taken. He was not the first to do so, of course, and subsequent writers and film makers have toyed with the tantalizing question of “what if.” That’s the question posed by Time of My Life. It’s a terrific premise for a novel – what if one could go back and once again travel the road not taken just to see whether maybe, just maybe, it would have been the better path,
after all – It’s especially apt for a novel about the pull a rich former working life, complete with handsome and affectionate lover, exerts on a suburban, stay-at-home mom whose once buoyant seven year marriage has deflated.
And so we have Jillian, who has never quite forgotten Jack, the one she left behind, along with her life as a successful account executive at a Manhattan ad agency, the career that was the one place she “slid into the comfort of [my] skin.” But ditch Jack she did, for Henry, the man who “really gets her.” Now, thanks to Henry, she has a big beautiful house she’s burnished to perfection, an endless supply of glossy how-to-live magazines, a shiny new Range Rover, an adorable eighteen-month old daughter, and a nagging sense that nothing seems right. Though she hasn’t forgotten that she was haunted back then by reminders of the mother who’d abandoned her and by Jack’s too weak ambition and too-strong attachment to his mother, the yearning to recapture her past remains powerful. “God how I missed my single life, when Jack and I painted the city; out every night, the rush of undiscovered opportunity always beckoning.” If only she could have a second chance. And she gets it. If Dorothy was whisked to Oz by the force of a tornado, Jillian’s journey backward is quite literally touched off by a sexy masseuse who fiddles with her chi (would I kid you about something like this?), whisking her back to her prior life.
As she wrestles with the hope that maybe, just maybe, with hindsight’s help she can rewrite both history and the future, Jillian also worries that perhaps we are all fated to live the lives we choose. In the midst of her time travel, she starts to wonder “if I’ve remembered wrong, if I’ve recast my past in a better light because it’s so much easier than considering that while the present isn’t a cheery Rockwell painting, neither was my history. That, in fact, it was just life, nothing glorious, nothing shabby, and while I like work well enough, it was still work, and that, perhaps, when I got pregnant and Henry suggested I quit, that I welcomed the chance, rather than resented it. Or perhaps not.” Trapped in the “blurry edges” between fact and fiction, Jillian struggles to figure it out.
Time of My Life has no pretensions to being high literary art, and at times it’s engrossing, but the characters are flat and, most important, the “message,” (spare us novels with messages) is dismayingly trite: be true to yourself and what you really need; don’t let domestic perfectionism obscure what’s really important; remember why you fell in love and married him (or her) in the first place; your baby is the most important thing that ever happened to you. Even if those things are true, a really good novel offers us more than that.