When I read the blurb for this book, I had to purchase it even though I was supposed to be on a temporary book purchasing hold and also it didn't immeWhen I read the blurb for this book, I had to purchase it even though I was supposed to be on a temporary book purchasing hold and also it didn't immediately fit any challenges I was currently working on (though I did manage to rearrange things to make it fit, in the end). This previous November (2014), I had planned/tried to write my NaNoWriMo novel to have a very similar premise to this story, except that I was attempting to write an adult "Choose Your Own Adventure". I wanted to see how this author had done with the idea.
The idea is a little like the Butterfly Effect, where one small choice can completely change the direction of your life. Neither I nor Lionel Shriver chose to go the route of the Ashton Kutcher movie though -- our characters do not get the choice to start over and try again. (Or, well, Shriver's definitely don't... with my "Choose Your Own Adventure" premise, the reader could cause this to happen, sort of.)
Shriver's character only has one decision point, as opposed to the many that my "Choose Your Own Adventure" allowed. At the beginning of the novel, Irina makes the decision (or not) to kiss her friend Ramsey while celebrating his birthday at his home. The two possible courses that her life can take depending on whether there is a kiss or a lack thereof are played out in alternating chapters.
I'll admit that I was a little underwhelmed. Aside from the fact that none of the characters were particularly likable, there were a few things that I didn't care for.
1. It all seemed a bit too formulaic. That is, if something happened in one version of the story, you could almost count on the exact opposite happening in the other version. I say "almost" because there were a few exceptions to this, but not a ton. 9/11 happens either way, which is good because I can't imagine how a kiss would affect that at all unless somehow it happened to involve one of the key players in the attacks, which it did not. Similarly (view spoiler)[Ramsey's cancer -- I suppose decisions made as a result of the kiss (or not) could lead to lifestyle changes that could increase or decrease the chance of cancer happening, but my fatalistic view kind of liked the idea that small changes are going to have no effect on this horrible disease. (hide spoiler)]
2. The minor characters seemed to have entirely different personalities in each version, especially Betsy, but also a few of the others. In some cases, I think this can be chalked up to the idea that they are supporting Irina's decision(s) regardless of whether they agreed with it personally or not. And sometimes it was just that on one version of the story we only got to know the character superficially but in the other we got to know them better and discover that they are just "putting on a show" for acquaintances, which obviously happens frequently in "real life". But in other cases they seem to have completely flip-flopped on their belief system and I had trouble believing that this could be the same person thrown into a different situation. This was actually true of Irina in a few cases as well. I think Ramsey was the only one who remained true to character across the board (though he suffers a little from the "putting on a show" thing in one version).
3. Lawrence. If there is one thing I know about decisions I make now, it is that they have absolutely ZERO hope of changing anything that has already happened in the past. Now, if I understand the timelines in this book correctly, (view spoiler)[in one version of the story Lawrence and Bethany had already hooked up when he was on his business trip in ... wherever it was he went, BEFORE Irina and Ramsey had the birthday celebration. But in the other story, this did not happen and it seemed that Lawrence and Bethany didn't get together until a few years after Irina moved out. This is completely unreasonable. I -suppose- it could have been that they actually did hook up on the business trip, but for some reason Lawrence decided to keep their relationship secret for a few years even though Irina left him... but this doesn't seem likely given his behavior in the alternate universe. Let me say again - Irina kissing Ramsey can have NO EFFECT on Lawrence's past behavior! (hide spoiler)]
But there were a lot of good parts, and I could relate to a lot of the "what if" questions that were brought up (which is why I was trying to write a similar book in the first place). I don't think I marked any specific quotes (I'll have to go back and check) but a lot of the emotions expressed felt familiar to me.
In the end, it was an interesting and worthwhile read, even though it didn't hit the spot exactly. Though I'm not saying I could do any better - I gave up on even finishing my own version of this!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more