Jesse Blackadder has drawn on the trauma of losing her sister when she was a child to write Sixty Seconds many years after. She knows tragedy well, with all of the grief, guilt, regret and blame, together with the scrutiny that the family comes under by the community and the media, due to the nature and circumstances of the death.
Finn and Bridget have left Hobart and moved to northern New South Wales, Bridget for a new job, and Finn escaping from the mistake he had made. Jarrah, approaching sixteen is happy to leave, and toddler Toby goes along for the ride. It is a new start them all. But then the unthinkable happens and nothing will be the same again for each of them.
Jarrah is dealing with his own teenage issues and then has to cope with the loss of his beloved younger brother, and then being put in the spotlight. He has to be strong, grow up quickly, swallowing ‘Jarrah the schoolkid down to some distant place’, stepping up when his parents can’t, ‘like some capable stranger’, and won’t broach the unaskable questions he has. His friendship with Tom, who has recently lost his father, helps.
Finn is under the limelight of the police and those who believe he hasn’t fulfilled the law in terms of pool fencing regulations. He feels he has to take responsibility, carry the weight for Bridget and Jarrah. He has to deal with ‘worlds he now inhabited that he’d known so little of before. The hospital. The police. The courts. This morning, in a hungry jostle outside the court building, the media. And perhaps, from this day onwards, jail’.
Bridget goes back to work and gets closer to her colleague, Chen. But she’s ‘stitched together someone to be and those threads are so thin and stretched that anything might snap them. You’ve created a person who might be able to get you through, a person who can forget, for some moments here and there, dragging her drowned son from the water’.
They are all not only faced with immense loss and grief, but also the accusations of others and the consequent guilt. None of them ‘know how to even start living in the world without him’, they ‘coexist in an orbit of loss’, consider other options. They can’t even comfort each other. The book addresses the need for family and friends, and the way it can affect relationships in a negative or positive way – ‘sorrow had done strange things with the bonds between them, stretched and twisted them into unrecognisable shapes’.
With authenticity the various stages of grief are shown – the denial – ‘Toby’s bedclothes rumpled and heaped on his tiny bed – the one he’d only moved into three months earlier – as if he might be hiding under them, tricking us’. The thought that ‘This doesn’t happen to us. This happens to other people. … And now we were them’. The way that it challenges whatever faith they had, making them re-evaluate everything. ‘You think life is OK but everything can go to shit in a second’.
The secondary characters are also real, even the unnamed wider community – ‘The curious and the sorrowful, the invisible bringers of food and flowers, come to glance respectfully at the tiny white coffin, blink away a few tears, and thank their deity, if they believe, that this hasn’t happened to them’.
My sister was killed in a car accident when she was nineteen and I was fourteen. Much of this story rings true for me. I recognised many of the feelings and responses. The depth of the loss is palpable, and brought me to tears many times. This is a very brave book, but Blackadder has carried it off.