A woman grappling with her past gets a sneak peek at her future in Allison Winn Scotch’s new novel.
TILLY FARMER HAS CHILLS. And they’re multiplying. Because after she gets an unwelcome glimpse into her future, Tilly — the main character in Allison Winn Scotch’s third novel, The One That I Want (Shaye Areheart Books, $24) — starts losing control of her meticulously ordered, but largely unexamined, life.
“I enjoy taking women who have compromised in some way and examining them from the inside out,” says Scotch, a frequent contributor to American Way. It’s a winning formula: Her 2008 novel, Time of My Life, not only hit the New York Times best-seller list, but it was optioned by the Weinstein Company for adaptation to the silver screen. In that book, Scotch played time-travel agent as well, sending her protagonist — a conflicted stay-at-home mom named Jillian — back in time seven years to explore the life that might have been.
“I think Jillian and Tilly are alike in that they’re women who probably aren’t living their fullest lives,” Scotch explains. “But where Jillian delved too much into her life and caused havoc, Tilly is not someone who asks a lot of questions. She doesn’t want to be challenged, because the things she faced in her past were too daunting.”
Those past challenges emerge gradually in the book, like the faces in the Polaroid pictures Tilly takes of anyone who seeks solace in her office. Tilly works as a guidance counselor at her high school alma mater, and she hasn’t explored much beyond Westlake High’s halls in the 14 years since graduation. She still loves planning prom and coordinating the fall musical (you guessed it: Grease). She’s married to her high school sweetheart, Tyler, and she’s content staying in her small hometown, where her memories, family and friends are.
Then an old childhood friend who dabbles in fortunetelling gives Tilly the gift of clarity. Suddenly, Tilly starts having visions of a decidedly different future than she’d planned: her formerly alcoholic father relapsing, a packed U-Haul in her driveway. When the visions prove true, Tilly desperately struggles to keep up with — and to change — her destiny.
Scotch wasn’t too clear at first where Tilly’s clairvoyance would take her. “I write without a map,” she says. “I didn’t know how it was going to end. So, it’s difficult to write a book where your character sees into the future when you don’t know what that future is going to be.”
She surprised herself during the last 100 pages, writing a thriller of a conclusion that’s much darker and more serious than anything she’d tackled in her previous books. She keeps readers in suspense about Tilly’s future — and past — until the final electrifying pages.
So, would Scotch like a sneak peek at her own future? While her short-term destiny is clear — she’s already at work on her fourth novel, The Memory of Us, which is due out June 2011 — she’ll pass on the crystal ball, thank you very much. “I used to think that seeing the future would be a wonderful gift,” she says. “But now I think it would be a curse. Life can be really crazy, and you can feel anxious about all there is to come, especially in today’s world. So it’s comforting to be able to sit back and say, ‘I have no idea what is going to happen, but today was a pretty good day.’ ”