Just One Year might be a confusing read for those who don’t have Just One Day (reviewed in BfK No.199) clearly in mind. During that prequel, which actually spans one day and then a long and troubled year, Allyson Healey records the 24 hours in which Shakespeare, Eurostar, Paris and a Dutch stranger (Willem) work together to disrupt her parentally-constrained ways of seeing the world. At the end of that day, Willem inexplicably disappears. His loss disturbs all of Allyson’s subsequent freshman year at college in Boston. The book closes with her in search of Willem, her self, and the door which opened in Paris.
After the final chapter of Just One Day, readers were teased with the opening pages of Just One Year, in which the disappearance of Willem (now our narrator) is explained. He’d been beaten up in a street fight and was unconscious in a hospital bed while Allyson awaited his return. Gradually, we learn more of his history; his Dutch father and Israeli mother were so much at one, the young Willem felt there was little space for him. After his father’s death, his mother seemingly indifferent to him, he became a global wanderer, drifting to wherever he landed up; which is how he came to be making ends meet playing Sebastian – another drifter – in Twelfth Night for an Alternative Shakespeare Company outside the theatre at Stratford-on-Avon. Allyson was in the audience.
Most of this book charts Willem’s travels after that shared day in Paris: France, Mexico, Holland, India and back to Amsterdam. The detail is persuasively authentic – you’d bet Willem is following in Ms Forman’s footsteps. At one level, this is a rougher than Rough Guide trip, for Willem’s world is that of the early back-packers, more at home in the underbelly of a city than on a Gap Year guided tour. Yet now there is some method in his movements, for his destinations are governed by his hunt for Allyson; he’s got little to go on, since he never learned her real name during their day together. He has known plenty of women in his 21 years, and he meets a few more, easy-come, easy-go, on his travels. But only Allyson, he now sees, offered him the electric connection he’d seen between his mother and father. So that at another level, events are teaching him about himself, a mother far more loving than he thought, and about being ready – should he find her – to be with Allyson again. At one point, returning to the stage, he finds himself – in every sense – playing Orlando at 24 hours notice (Willem was understudy to a principal who fractures his foot just before the first night). Readers of the prequel will know that on the other side of the Atlantic, Allyson made some startling discoveries in a university class on a Rosalind/Orlando scene from As You Like It.
For a reader focused on Will he/Won’t he ever meet her again?, the narrative and some earnest discussions (about chance or intention shaping a life) might sometimes seem aimless to the point of tedium. But readers who recognise that Willem is unconsciously reporting his own growth will find this a more absorbing journey. Though I’m not at all sure about that rapid, one-and-a-half page ending (‘…there’s a faint knock on the front door…’). Ms Forman could well insist, ‘But Willem’s ready now’. Ripeness is All, she might say.