Review: Seconds and Inches by Carly Israel

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cover of seconds and inches - hands hold nest of eggsReading any memoir can inspire a reader to consider their own life. Carly Israel’s Seconds and Inches: A Memoir (Jaded Ibis Press, 2020) will inspire the reader to consider not only their own life but how the choices and actions of those before and after us can have an effect on our lives.

The memoir is divided into three sections of family trauma, Israel’s sobriety journey, and her story of parenting and divorce. Both sets of grandparents have stories of surviving the Holocaust. She also describes how the upbringing of her parents determined their parenting style, especially their addictions. Then she explains how her childhood led to her own addiction. Early on she writes, “This fire burns within me…” Israel points out over and over how she wants to become sober or like herself more, but she falls back into bad habits. In many ways, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to break the cycle of family trauma. It becomes clear early on that Israel is a storyteller both because it is in her blood and she recognizes that she must do so in order to break this cycle and become the best person she can be.

Throughout Seconds and Inches, Israel examines her relationship with God. Believing in a higher power is integral in most sobriety journeys and there is a wide range of how people respond or integrate this into their life. Israel’s relationship with God changes as she cares for her young son. She remarks, “What I did find was that I needed to have a God of my own conception. … Now, I believe in a God that would give me all the support, love, strength, courage, and guidance I needed to get through each day.” Her view of one day at a time comes into full effect when she’s forced to deal with something completely out of her hands: the sickness of a child.

Israel is not only a great writer, but she particularly shines when she reflects on the cycles of family trauma, her relationship with herself, and finding strength in herself as a parent. The story does change tone as she focuses on her son’s health and the impact it has on her and her marriage. By this point, Israel does not mention her sobriety often. It feels as if her sobriety is guaranteed, but it is not clear to the reader. She describes a moment when people undermine the way she fights for her son’s sickness to be taken seriously. This is a missed opportunity to connect the ways that society undermines the seriousness of addiction, especially when it is reoccurring within a family unit.

The book incorporates the form of thank you notes written by the author over a year and then with a form of lessons learned near the end of the book. There are moments when these forms are interconnected with the chapters but there are times when this sticks out or is abandoned completely. This is disappointing because Israel’s talent easily shines throughout the story and it’s easy to feel as if she is talking to the reader as a friend.

As someone with a family history of addiction, there were parts of the story that were difficult to read and parts that I identified with. This should be considered by potential readers. However, the writing and truthfulness in Israel’s Seconds and Inches: A Memoir makes it worthwhile.

Alexa Josaphouitch is a graduate of Drexel University’s BA English/ MA publishing program. She writes memoir and creative nonfiction. She loves showtunes, books, and tea.

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