JESSE BLACKADDER Sixty Seconds. Reviewed by Sally Nimon
Sixty Seconds gives a powerful insight into how ordinary people cope with extraordinary events.
‘Christ. The whole lot’s fucked. You think life is OK … but everything can go to shit in a second.’
And in those words lies the essence of Sixty Seconds. This book is not a light read. It deals with the accidental drowning of a toddler in a back-yard swimming pool, and the devastating consequences that continue to ripple out from that one tragic event. Though Blackadder is clear in her opening author’s note that Sixty Seconds is fictional, she is also frank in declaring the death of her own two-year-old sister in similar circumstances 40 years ago. From that point on, before the story has even commenced, the knowledge of that real event cannot help but cast an ever-present shadow over the unfolding tale of suburban couple Finn and Bridget and their teenaged son Jarrah.
Let me be frank too: that makes this a difficult book to review, at times a difficult book to read. There are moments when the pain lifts off the page a little too readily, feels a little too raw. Although Blackadder is writing from a distance of 40 years, what becomes abundantly clear as Sixty Seconds unfolds is that the impact of this type of event never goes away. Nor is it just the accident itself that the characters are faced with – one of the cruellest aspects of Sixty Seconds is the way it shows – in a matter-of-fact manner that is no less brutal for its simplicity – how easily already traumatised characters can become caught in a downwardly spiralling nightmare.
Guilt. Suspicion. Unspoken accusations. The isolation that inevitably follows, not because people don’t care, but because they don’t know what to do. The terrible decision that must be made around whether to stay and try to continue life or whether to flee and start again somewhere else. And then, on top of everything else, comes the legal system.
There’s an old adage that major life decisions should never be made in the face of trauma and distress, but Finn and Bridget are not given the luxury of delay. Every decision they make, no matter how benign the intent, results in a new blow with its own set of consequences. Every time you think they’ve hit rock bottom, fate deals them a whole new hand. Even their remaining loved ones – the very people who might be able to offer some kind of understanding – become unreachable. When Finn seeks comfort from his family in Tasmania, all he finds is a shell of the happiness he once knew:
He’d dreamed of coming home to find family again, of them coming around and holding his pain, but sorrow had done strange things with the bonds between them, stretched and twisted them into unrecognisable shapes.
The bravery of the author in writing this novel must be acknowledged. It can’t have been easy. But the result is a work that gives a powerful insight into how ordinary people manage to cope when suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances. And the truth is, as Sixty Seconds clearly shows, that disaster can happen in less than a minute.
Jesse Blackadder Sixty Seconds HarperCollins 2017 PB 384pp $29.99
Sally Nimon once graduated from university with an Honours degree majoring in English literature and has hung around higher education ever since. She is also an avid reader and keen devourer of stories, whatever the genre.
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