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The Effect of Living Backwards

3.05  ·  Rating Details ·  961 Ratings  ·  172 Reviews
Does Alice really hate her sister, or is that love? Was she really enrolled in grad school, or was that an elaborate hoax? Is this really a hijacking, or is it merely the effect of living backwards?

Following her acclaimed debut, The Mineral Palace, Heidi Julavits presents a quirky, compelling new novel about two sisters, a bizarre event, and the elusive nature of truth.
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 7th 2004 by Berkley (first published June 23rd 2003)
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I'm not sure why I play these weird games with myself. I had triumphantly gotten my most-highly-anticipated book of the moment, Swamplandia!, right before I left for a week-long beach vacation. But I wouldn't let myself start it before I got on the plane, and so I had a gap of like a day, and so I had to pick up something else to read first. Why did I pick such a long book? Why did I pick such a long, strange book? This one wound up taking up my entire damn vacation (I admit, there was a lot les ...more
Jul 23, 2009 Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For awhile, I couldn't make up my mind about Heidi Julavits. I read The Mineral Palace forever ago, when I was too young to bother having a particularly reasoned opinion about books (and anyway I don't remember it), and I read The Uses of Enchantment last year and really liked it, but there was something about the literary ethos to which she belongs that I couldn't make up my mind about. But now, after reading The Effect of Living Backwards, my mind is definitely made up: Heidi Julavits is fucki ...more
Oct 20, 2007 David rated it did not like it
This was a profoundly irritating book. I'd been dimly aware of Heidi Julavits, as one of what I loosely think of as the "Eggers coterie". Co-editor of "The Believer", the first issue of which contains a 'manifesto' written by Julavits, the thrust of which is a plea for reviewers to be kinder ('less snarky') to new and experimental fiction.

All of which should be irrelevant - after all, one should be able to judge her book on its own merits. My judgement - clever, readable, but ultimately a steri
Siblings Alice and Edith are en route to Edith's wedding, from Casablanca to Melilla. Along the way, they converse about their thoughts and feelings, reminisce about their childhoods...and then, out of nowhere, it appears that the plane has been hijacked.

The players/perpetrators are Bruno, Stephen, Tom...and possibly unknown others.

But this story is not at all what it seems. In the opening paragraphs, Alice, telling this story as the first-person narrator, is at an Institute where role-playing a
Dec 10, 2007 Trish rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"Where do you get these expectations? The movies?"

I stared at her as if to reply, Where else does one get one's ideas about anything?

* * *

I realized that I was not a creative woman, merely a strangely raised woman, and that exposing one's children to exceptional situations will not protect them from mediocrity.

* * *

Waitressing appeared to be a far more noble way to serve humanity. People tend to know what they want, and it's nice to just give it to them sometimes, without telling them they're
Rori Rischak
Unfortunately, I read this book a while ago, so I'm not reviewing it while it's fresh in my mind. But it's gotten such bad reviews here that I feel almost an indignant duty to praise it.

I'll admit, it's not for everyone. It's a postmodern work, and a lot of people don't like the postmodern movement. What Julavits does in this book is thoroughly confuse you until you don't know who's good, who's bad, what the hell is going on, and if it all even happened. It's a strange journey through a plane hi
Jun 13, 2009 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to read Julavits' "The Mineral Palace," but I live in a non-English-speaking country and have to read what I can get my hands on. Which was this book. Lots of bad reviews and complaints about it lowered my expectations. Perhaps that's why I was so pleasantly surprised with this book. Sibling rivalry is one of my favorite subjects, especially between two sisters, with only a year between them, and the older sister thinking she is beautiful and deserving, and the younger sister hav ...more
Mike Wood
I finished it, but just barely. I really wanted to like this book, but midway through, it became a bit of a chore (not a challenge, though, just a chore.) I've read books where I was never quite sure what was going on, but could maintain the assumption that the author was smarter and craftier than me, but in this case, I feel like the author lost control of her characters and premise (BOTH very interesting mind you, which was what kept me reading) Now off to read other reviews to see how many DF ...more
May 27, 2009 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Account, by an unreliable narrator, of an airline highjacking and its aftermath—or perhaps not, as one of this book's key themes is appearance vs. reality. Overtones of Lewis Carroll and Vladimir Nabokov. Julavits creates excessively writerly prose, and depends too much on verbing nouns.
Mar 30, 2012 Tessa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Like a cross between "The Magus" and TV's "LOST." This captivated me right from the start but I suspect it needs another read to fully appreciate the flipped-on-its-head plot.
Jun 18, 2007 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know, I think that Julavits is a pretty talented writer, and I enjoyed this book enough that I picked up her next novel. That said, I found myself getting impatient with this book. The concept of the mock terrorists is wildly entertaining, but I started to become irritated with the narrator -- and I have a pretty high tolerance for pomo self-indulgence. I'm definitely curious to read more of Julavits' work, however.
Mar 08, 2011 Peter rated it did not like it
Ugh, can I count this as read? It was so dreadful and slow I was distracted and day dreaming while reading and finally I dropped the book one day, lost the page. I never opened it again and donated to the local library. Don't waste your time, it sucked.
May 01, 2008 Cory rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I should like this. The three blurbs on the back are from two of my favorite authors (saunders and bender) and one I like (eggers). Just didn't do anything for me.
Feb 05, 2017 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 10, 2007 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's no wonder that Dave Eggers is quoted on the cover of this book, calling it "astounding": in many ways, The Effect of Living Backwards is like a female version of A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius. We have a young protagonist who thinks she possesses all of life's answers; throughout the book, she belittles others without literally saying so. Now, there's nothing wrong with having a genius protagonist. Until, of course, this protagonist (Alice) is placed in a cocky, first-person po ...more
Nov 02, 2009 Chana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: trippy-fiction
I have no idea what this book was about. The premise was a hijacking that was really a staged role play to see how people react under pressure (I think). The main characters were Alice and Edith, sisters, and this book devotes quite a bit of space to sibling relationships. Alice says about herself and her sister, "I knew it as clearly as I knew that I was a lonely person to the bone, a person whose choices reflected her inability to ever love anyone as much as she loved this woman whom she godda ...more
I really, really wanted to like this book, and I tried hard to appreciate Julavits' experiment with postmodern narrative, conspiracy theories, terrorism, and sibling rivlary. She can be wickedly funny, and the book is certainly, as it promises, "an intellectual thriller."

But frankly, I was bored and annoyed much more often than I was "thrilled," impressed, or moved. THE EFFECT OF LIVING BACKWARDS was more of a thought experiment than a narrative. Or maybe this would have been a better topic for
Richard Good
This book was mentioned in Donald Maass' "The Fire in Fiction", a book on writing fiction. I picked up this novel as part of a project I have started, using the examples in Donald Maass' book as a reading list. In fact, at a BookBuyers store in Monterey, I found "The Effect of Living Backwards" on a shelf with Heidi Julavits' other novels, "The Uses of Enchantment" and "The Mineral Palace". I couldn't resist taking home the entire trio.

Julavits' first novel, "The Mineral Palace", was deep and da
Jun 09, 2014 Eve rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I enjoyed this at the beginning and found some of it quite amusing, it became tedious by the end. I'm not quite sure how to describe or define the book - nothing in it is knowable or trustworthy. Our narrator may or may not be who she says she is and she may or may not have done certain things. But after a while I ceased to care. It was way, way too contrived for me and so over the top. Lacking is any real development of the characters - impossible, I think, to actually feel for or relate ...more
Aug 01, 2013 Kerfe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Who are the good guys? Who is the betrayer, who is the betrayed?

Can you play a game when you don't know the rules? Or is it just life, a game that HAS no rules?

"The Effect of Living Backwards" is a story of broken families, displacement, siblings, manipulations, hidden motivation, a longing for home, and fierce love.

A plane hijacking--or is it?--reveals both the inflexibility and the malleability of human behavior, how brutality and the unknown can both empower and freeze.

What is the most effect
Like many of the reviews I have read here, I didn't love this book; I thought it was convoluted, pointless, and there was nothing believable about the emotional states of the characters, especially given the fact that their plane had been hijacked. Regardless, I still read it, and I still mildly enjoyed it, because I wanted to learn something from it.

I thought the digression chapters focusing on each victim's past lives were brilliantly written and so interesting, even though they didn't REALLY
Sarah J. Belcher
The first 50 pages and the last 20 were very slow and/or disappointing, and really, no matter how good the middle is, if the ending sucks, then what's the point? I think the biggest redeeming factor for this novel was the fact that I often forgot that I wasn't reading a story by Chuck Palahniuk - he and Julavits have similar styles and employ the use of short narrations from multiple characters to build a tale with many unexpected twists and shocking surprises. Unfortunately, I was dissatisfied ...more
May 26, 2012 Rhonda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
hmmm, not sure what to think about this book. The upside is that it increased my vocabulary. It was very engaging, mostly do to the back and forth style of storytelling urging the reader to hurry and get to the end to find out whats real, whats not and what happens. unfortunately the various characters childhood stories i found to be beyond believable even as a child's over exaggerated view (7 year olds talking about Oedipus metaphorically...really??). And that was just one thing I found lacking ...more
Apr 22, 2014 Kinsey_m rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: style
Last night I finished re-reading this book, and I've decided to award it an extra star, from 4 to 5, for withstanding a second read with such a twited and out-of-the-ordinary plot. The theme of the story is sibling rivalry, a recurring subject in Julavit's books. Alice and Edith are two sisters witha complicated relationship flying on a plane that is hijacked (or maybe not). There is an international institute against terrorism in Lucerne, where two factions quarrell about the best way to deal w ...more
Aug 04, 2014 Robyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My read of 'The Effect of Living Backwards' is that it's experimental fiction for a lazy reader. It's not experimental enough that you can't move through it at a nice pace, say, on the beach, sun dumb, with a nice margarita buzz. This is also a credit to Julavits' clear and straightforward writing style.

A more geeky critique I have of this novel is that what, precisely, is meant by the concept of 'living backwards' is never clearly articulated and, as a consequence, the effect of living backward
Mar 24, 2013 Babyvogue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
uno di quei libri con la copertina rigida, a copertina bellissima e una protagonista di nome Alice. Una storia che ti sembra surreale all'inizio, ma che poi, procedendo di pagina in pagina, acquista una normalità inquietante, tra le righe, tra ciò che è reale è ciò che non lo è. Ci si butta all'interno di uno specchio, in cui si vede il contrario di ciò che si è. Un libro chiaro pechè complesso, intenso, pieno di personaggi carismatici, inquieti, profondi.

«Questa storia è fatta
per scardinarvi l

Oct 31, 2012 Miles rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't something I'd recommend to the younger crowd.

It deals with a bit of mature matter, and no, I'm not saying it's erotic or nude or anything, I'm just saying the whole story is complicated and I don't think younger people ranging from 17 below would get it, but on the other hand, maybe they will. Hey, I didn't get most of it either.

It's a nice book, the whole story's a rollercoaster. It jumps from one aspect to another,
and if you're not a patient reader, I don't think you'll get the who
Sep 03, 2008 eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a little unsure of what to think about this one. At the beginning I was pretty skeptical because the dialog was crushingly clever. In the way that some of the dialog in Juno and all of the dialog in (I'm sort of ashamed to admit that I know this) Gilmore Girls is disturbingly, annoyingly clever. Thankfully, that didn't last too long and a thoroughly bizarre story started to take over everything. I'm comfortable and happy in bizarre story land. On the whole, it's a pretty dark affair (murder, ...more
Apr 19, 2009 Nicole rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Blame my headspace. Blame the fact that I am overwhelmed with books.

I think I like Heidi, I think the writing is good, I think the story is interesting. I think all of these things and yet I am putting this book down halfway through it. If it were summer, maybe I'd push through to the end, but I'm too busy at the moment and cost benefit analysis says Heidi has to go.

Clearly, there are lots of little pieces and story arcs woven through this book. I imagine they will all come together in a spellbi
Initially, I found this book engaging in a Dan Brown airport-book sense (i.e., it was a smooth read and difficult to put down). Ultimately, however, the book left me confused and frustrated. I was convinced that the unbelievable plot, unusual narrative structure and philosophical tangents were leading up to a point - or at least some sort of satisfactory story closure - but neither of these occur. The worst part is that by the end, I am so dizzied by all of the loose story threads that it's diff ...more
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Heidi Suzanne Julavits is an American author and co-editor of The Believer magazine. She has been published in The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 2, Esquire, Story, Zoetrope All-Story, and McSweeney's Quarterly. Her novels include The Mineral Palace (2000), The Effect of Living Backwards (2003) and The Uses of Enchantment (2006) and The Vanishers (2012).

She was born and grew up in Portland, Maine,
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“I am simply looking for a companion with whom to spend my days, a companion who will cherish as much as I the stupidity of living in the moment, and spend every dull, amazing second with me.” 33 likes
“I can't even tell you what else I imagined. I can only humiliate myself to such a degree; at a certain point it becomes humorous, and this story is not meant to be humorous. This story is meant to winch your ribs open and tamper with your heart. This story is meant to make you realize that your chances of happiness in this world are terribly slim if you lack a fine imagination.” 14 likes
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