A Lifetime of Impossible Days…
About the Book:
Tabitha Bird’s stunning debut is a magical, life-affirming novel about heartbreak, healing and learning to forgive yourself.
Meet Willa Waters, aged 8 . . . 33 . . . and 93.
On one impossible day in 1965, eight-year-old Willa receives a mysterious box containing a jar of water and the instruction: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’ So she does – and somehow creates an extraordinary time slip that allows her to visit her future selves.
On one impossible day in 1990, Willa is 33 and a mother-of-two when her childhood self magically appears in her backyard. But she’s also a woman haunted by memories of her dark past – and is on the brink of a decision that will have tragic repercussions . . .
On one impossible day in 2050, Willa is a silver-haired, gumboot-loving 93-year-old whose memory is fading fast. Yet she knows there’s something she has to remember, a warning she must give her past selves about a terrible event in 1990. If only she could recall what it was.
Can the three Willas come together, to heal their past and save their future, before it’s too late?
‘We are all the ages we have ever been. We carry around our trauma. And if we have unfinished business at one of those ages we can’t move on to have a healthy adult life.’
A Lifetime of Impossible Days is a novel that has been popping up in my social media feeds with five stars ever since its release last week. It’s a story about childhood trauma, its lingering effects, and the possibility of healing. However, it tells this story in a very different and somewhat strangely wonderful manner. A Lifetime of Impossible Days is magical realism at its most fantastical. Think Alice in Wonderland (which is referenced within this story), throw in some time travel, and your mind might be ready for this adventure.
‘Your mother was grown and married to your father before I could see how little I knew about letting shame go and loving myself. Instead, I gave all these wounded lessons to your mother as a child and she in turn gave them to you. Oh, what a marvellous job we all do of passing brokenness down through the generations.’
As far as debuts go, this is an ambitious way to begin. The story of Willa Waters is a tough one, the trauma profound, and while Tabitha Bird applies a great deal of sensitivity and a lightness of hand to the descriptions, as adult readers, we can infer much from very little, and it’s fairly brutal. It has the potential to distress some readers, and I think this might have been worth adding into the description. It certainly went to spaces that I wasn’t anticipating. But it gives the reader an important message by the end: that the stain of trauma can’t be ignored. We need to put time and effort into healing, because suppressing it doesn’t allow a person to live the rest of their life in the manner that they deserve.
‘No child should take responsibility for saving their sister or the adults in their lives.’
The characterisation throughout the novel was strong. I liked each version of Willa, distinct within their age yet the sparks of them being three different versions of the same person was always present. Many of the supporting characters really shone too, particularly Eden and older Eli, whose consideration of their ailing mother was really touching and brought me to tears like nothing else within the book. And Sam, Willa’s husband, who was a wonderful man, one of the very best, along with Grammy, who was intuitive and supportive on so many levels. But excellent characterisation doesn’t always only have to apply to the good and likeable characters. Willa’s father, with his violence and menace, the manipulating victim blaming he would employ; his presence was insidious and the tension he brought to every scene he was in or mentioned in was extensive. And then there was Willa’s mother, a woman so engrossed in her own survival she was completely unable to care for her children, much less take measures to protect them. The volatility of her own existence manifested itself in violent and defensive episodes directed at Willa. She was a very complex character and I can say from experience that she was well crafted.
In terms of the magic, it’s quite out there, so you really do need to just let go and get lost in the fiction of it all. The time travel within this story is more fantasy that science fiction, the portal involving an ocean that comes in a jar that transforms a backyard into a beach around an old mango tree. There are also some pretty out there notions of houses transforming and people’s lives relocating to whole other towns which leads one of the versions of Willa to wonder if she’s completely lost her mind – I felt intensely sorry for her at this point within the story, as if she didn’t have enough to worry about! It took me almost half of the novel to wrap my head around this magical side of the story, mostly because I was trying to analyse the science of it, and it also seemed to be breaking a few ‘rules of time travel’. Don’t be like this. From the first page, just let go and try not to think about it all too deeply. In many ways, this is refreshing. We are so used to novels that are almost trying to emulate real life to the nth degree. We need more novels that are creative in form and genre, that tell important stories within alternate contexts. So, ambitious it might be, but Tabitha Bird has really pulled it off. Before signing off on this review, I must make mention of the whimsical illustrations that adorn the cover and appear throughout the book. These are not just for decoration. As you progress through the story, the presence of the illustrations will take on greater meaning. This is a brilliant debut: highly creative and visionary in its execution.
‘I think the ocean has done what it was meant to do. It brought me together with my younger and older selves to bring our shame into the light, to show me how to trust our story and begin to heal.’
Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of A Lifetime of Impossible Days for review.
About the Author:
Tabitha Bird is a writer and poet who lives and works in the rural township of Boonah, Queensland. By day Tabitha may be found painting, working on her next book or with her husband, three beautiful boys and Chihuahua.
A Lifetime of Impossible Days
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released on 4th June 2019