Frying Eyeballs

A Year and Six SecondsMy eyes hurt. They literally freakin’ ache. Not because I’ve been a diligent, nose-to-the-grindstone sort of adult, slaving over some survival-related task that must be finished tonight whether my vision fails or not. No, I’ve been doing this to myself for pleasure. Because I have been enjoying a book so much that I can’t put it down even when I feel the blood pulsing through my retina and my sight has become so blurry I can barely see the page. You think I exaggerate for dramatic effect. But alas, it is not so.

The book is Isabel Gillies’ A Year and Six Seconds. It’s the sequel to her New York Times bestseller about her husband leaving her and her two young children for another woman. I read her first book, It Happens Every Day, a couple of years ago and was delighted by it, in large part because it followed so closely the events of my own life at the time and reading it felt like having a friend who knew exactly what I was going through and was happy to commiserate for however long I needed her to. The writing, I felt, was just serviceable. Nevertheless, when I saw that Gillies had come out with a sequel, I immediately bought it. And now here I am, wondering if the goodness of this second book is actually endangering my health.

I wonder if Gillies specifically dedicated herself to making this book a page-turner. The pacing is incredibly fast. There are chapters that are no more than two pages long. Which means that, after swearing I’ll go to bed after just one more chapter, I find myself saying, “Oh, but that itsy-bitsy one doesn’t count!” And then the next one will be more like ten pages. And so much will happen in those ten pages that by the end of them I’m dying to know where all this is going to lead and I can’t put the book down after all, throbbing eyes be damned.

Honestly, the closest thing I can compare this to is my first two years of college, when I would only get four hours of sleep a night because I stayed up until three a.m. revising papers with the guy I was hopelessly in love with. And then I’d get up again at seven a.m. to have breakfast with him in the campus dining hall. I can see myself getting up at six tomorrow to read this book.

But it’s not just the pacing. Or the subject matter. (Love and loss will never get old. Anyone want to join me for a hundredth screening of Out of Africa?) Gillies’ writing has blossomed in this second memoir. She’s wonderfully clever, but in a way that moves the story relentlessly forward instead of distracting from it as so many writers’ cleverness does. I am enthralled by her Voice. She really seems to have found that elusive personal quality that every budding writer seeks. I’m delighted to accompany her from page to page to page.

And I am thoroughly relieved to discover that I am still capable of falling in love with a book (or a writer) in this way. I’ve read so many things through the years. Started so many books with such high hopes. And been so unimpressed with so many of them–even ones that I felt were well-written and that I ought to like. I’ve even slogged through many of them to the bitter end, out of a feeling of moral obligation. But love is not something you can force, even in the literary world. If the chemistry isn’t there, it isn’t there. But when it is, you’re willing to give your eyeballs to find out how it all ends.

And frankly, reading A Year and Six Seconds reminds me of why I am a writer. I want to know how to fry eyeballs.

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