A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

A lifetime of impossible days: 2 clouds top and bottom of the page have mirrored water. A fish 'flies' above one ocean, a crab floats in the middleA review by Nalini Haynes

Super gumboots Willa is aged 8. Middle Willa is aged 33. Silver Willa is aged 93. They are all the same person. In 2050, Silver Willa is (word of the day) catawampus (adjective): awry or askew. She picked up an ocean in a soggy box at the post office. Willa also mailed an ocean to her younger selves. (Yes, Australia Post apparently does still exist in 2050 AND it can post parcels through time!) Through these oceans, the Willas meet, creating a lifetime of impossible days.

Grammy, Willa’s grandmother, is a highlight of the story. Midnight tea with possums, rebellion against expectations, and the word of the day that is always alarmingly apropos.

Childhood trauma and its aftermath

Willa’s life and family was shattered by events that happened when she was 8 years old. Bird ‘closes the door’ on scenes of sexual abuse but even implied sexual violence can be triggering. Some of the non-sexual violence is also explicit. The ocean, complete with sand that gets everywhere, shells and crabs, is a source of solace, escape, and self-nurturing.

Willa’s father was violent and he sexually abused his daughters. Bird balances childlike hope and self-nurture with the shattering of psyche, the fragmentation of family, that are results of this trauma. Willa ponders the personal impact:

This is the real me. Island Willa. Population: one. Sam (Willa’s husband) visits, but he doesn’t get to stay. The truth is that I don’t let anyone see the full extent of my wounds, my trauma.

The incredible isolation Willa feels as a victim, as a survivor who has not yet managed to heal or stop being a victim, is damaging her and her family.

Learning to heal

Willa’s sister, Lottie, is a mentally-shattered drug addict not just because of the abuse but because the family lied and pretended it didn’t happen, causing a schism in Lottie’s psyche. Willa’s guilt adds compound interest to her ongoing denial.
Healing requires grieving.

Grammy doesn’t wipe my face, but she moves her chair closer. She says you shouldn’t wipe people’s tears away because they have the right to cry them. Instead you should sit beside them so they don’t have to cry alone.

Through her lifetime of impossible days, Willa learns to sit beside herself, sometimes literally, to keep herself company while crying. Her self-parenting (a real counselling or self-help process to aid healing) creates positive shifts in history. Although changing history is impossible in reality, this book gives hope for recovery.

Silver Willa has alzheimers so she is frustrated with her memory loss. Those around her are, if anything, more frustrated. This depiction is loving, offering hope and stories in a difficult situation.

Wrap

A Lifetime of Impossible Days is a rare book, the likes of which I’ve only read once before: Guardian Angel’s Journal. Both novels are precious to me. As a survivor and a former counsellor, I highly highly recommend both these novels to survivors while also offering a word of caution: read with support and self-care. If you’re a survivor, talk to a friend or counsellor while reading these books. Survivor or not, READ THESE BOOKS. Although both are fantasies, both offer incredible insight into trauma while ameliorating the darker side of society with hope and healing. You may laugh, you may cry, and you may learn something.

If A Lifetime of Impossible Days does not win LOTS of awards, I will be VERY disappointed in the book community. You. Have. Been. Warned.

Book details

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780143792260, 9781760144395
Publisher: Penguin
Format: paperback, 416pp
Category: fantasy, literature, social issues