Outside observers would say Jillian Westfield “has it all.” She lives comfortably with her husband, Henry, a handsome and successful investment banker, and adorable 18-month old daughter, Katie, in their beautiful four-bedroom, five-bath home. She has good friends. Nonetheless, she is discontented and allows “what ifs” to haunt her. What if she hadn’t married Henry? What if she hadn’t left her career when she became pregnant? What if she had stayed with her charming boyfriend, Jackson, a would-be writer? What if she hadn’t ignored the letter from the mother who abandoned her?
The truth is that Jill’s marriage is faltering, largely due to resentments born out of a lack of honest communication. And motherhood isn’t the idyllic, fulfilling adventure she envisioned, no matter how deeply she loves her daughter. And Jill feels stagnant and unproductive without her career.
After a massage during which her therapist releases her blocked chi, Jill finds it is seven years earlier. She is right back in her previous life. Except that this time, she remembers the details of the life she left behind and knows in advance the decisions she will make and the future those decisions will create. Facing precisely the same obstacles as the last time it was 2000, she has the opportunity to make different choices this time. Will she?
Who hasn’t longed for a “do over,” a second chance? With the benefit of hindsight, it is often easy to see how choices made, based upon the knowledge available to us at the time, impacted our lives. In Time of My Life, readers get the opportunity for a virtual “do over” by following Jill’s journey back seven years to 2000.
Following her life-altering massage, Jill finds herself back at her old job, living with Jackson, the boyfriend she left behind. She is, of course, completely flummoxed, at a loss to understand how her carefully constructed life simply ceased to exist and time has apparently been standing still for seven years. Her dream house does not yet exist, her telephone number is not in service and, worse, she has no idea where Katie is — if she even exists — or who is taking care of her.
Plunked right back into the daily rigors of her career in advertising, Jill views her boss, Josie, from a new perspective. Josie has a home, husband, and children, and struggles to maintain some semblance of work-life balance. Jill finds herself questioning Josie’s choices from the vantage point of having been a wife and mother. Jill also evaluates her relationship with Jackson differently, given that she has the experience of several years of marriage with Henry from which to draw. Jackson is as she remembered him: sexually exciting, loving, fun, but lacking the drive or ambition to make his supposed dream of being a writer come to fruition. And then there is his family, particularly his mother, and his inability to prioritize in a way that makes Jill feel secure and valued. Initially, her return to the relationship with Jackson feels like those giddy days when a romance is new and everything the other person does or says is charming. But as they did before, his habits become annoying, grate on Jill’s nerves, and she remembers the anger and unexpressed resentments that ultimately destroyed their relationship the first time.
In order for author Allison Winn Scotch’s premise to work, it is critical that the character of Jill be simultaneously likable yet flawed enough for readers to be sympathetic to her predicament, while recognizing some of their own shortcomings in her. At the outset, Jill’s complaints about her life seem shallow, evidence of a lack of gratitude for an amazing life. But Scotch quickly whisks readers into Jill’s fast-paced adventure, interspersing the events unfolding in 2000 (for the second time, in most instances) with Jill’s memories of how she came to be on that massage table. The contrast is fascinating, compelling the action forward as curiosity builds. How will Jill ever get back to the life she left behind, assuming she will, eventually want to do so?
This is the here and now. This is the moment. This is the time of my life.
What Jill eventually discovers, of course, is that the persons, places, and events of 2000 haven’t changed at all. They are exactly as she left them. But because of all the life she has lived, all the experiences she has had in the interim, she has changed. She first notices that fact when she finds herself back in an apartment she could no longer inhabit. Her closet is a mess, for one thing.
The other fact Jill has to confront is that she was complicit not only in creating her life, but in destroying many of the aspects of her relationship with Henry that she cherished most. Realizing the extent to which she blamed Henry for not meeting her needs, Jill questions why she was so incapable of simply voicing her desires. “Why didn’t I just say, ‘Be here. Be present Give me what I need.’ Why was I so incapable of saying something so simple? . . . Maybe he would have heard me; maybe I could have started hearing him, too.” And she gains an understanding of how most marriages disintegrate. “In real life, most marriages don’t come undone with one big explosion. Unlike in the movies, most wives don’t stumble upon lipstick on a collar or discover a hotel receipt in a blazer pocket. Most wives don’t uncover hidden gambling problems or latent addictions or experience out-of-nowhere abuse that pops up one day and destroys everything Some do, but most, no, not most. Most marriages unravel slowly, slipping drop by drop like water ebbing through a curled palm, until one day, you look down and notice that it, your hand, is entirely empty. That’s how most marriages dissolve and run dry.” Once she understands, will Jill want to save her marriage to Henry? Will she be able to do so or is it too late?
Jill also must face why she was unable to be fully present in her marriage, at last ready to listen to her mother’s story and decide whether she can forgive her mother for leaving her behind.
In Scotch’s skillful hands, Time of My Life is a charming and often funny story about one woman’s awakening. Once Jill figures out what was both good and bad about her life then and now, she becomes empowered to choose wisely and craft the future she truly desires. As a result of her trip back to 2000, Jill learns that “what I needed to change seven years in the future had nothing to do with Jack or Katie or my mother or even Henry. Now that the patterns of my future life have replayed themselves in my past one, the thing that seems apparent is the only person I need to change is, in fact, me.”
Can she? I strongly recommend that you read Time of My Life to find out!
You might enjoy my review of The Song Remains the Same, also by Allison Winn Scotch.