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The Effect of Living Backwards

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3.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,041 ratings  ·  182 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?
Paperback, 336 pages
Published 2005 by Virago Press (first published June 23rd 2003)
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Average rating 3.07  · 
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 ·  1,041 ratings  ·  182 reviews


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David
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
...more
Oriana
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
Taylor
Jul 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Laurel-Rain
Mar 02, 2012 rated it liked it
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
...more
Trish
Dec 10, 2007 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
...more
Rori Rockman
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: postmodernist
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
...more
Jessica
Jun 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
David
May 27, 2009 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. ...more
Tessa
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Lauren
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
3.3...I was pretty into this book --actually was super into this book-- until the halfway mark, at which point I just couldn't stay interested. Other folks might love it though. I've never read a book with a plot like this, and while I appreciated the sinister, twisted feel of the story (it reminded me a little of Palahniuk's Survivor--in a good way!), it was so unrealistic and far-fetched that eventually the novelty wore off and it felt annoying. I did finish it and don't regret reading it, but ...more
Andrew Barnes
Jun 06, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emily
Jun 18, 2007 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Peter
Mar 08, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Cory
May 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Allen Duarte
Jun 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Ms. Julavits wins. Not just because I purchased the book; not just because I read the book, or had an emotional response during and after reading it, but also because I have written the kind of review she likely wanted me to write, which was if not her primary or secondary goal, was certainly no less than her tertiary one (even though I’ve set out three other targets earlier in this very long sentence and who knows, maybe this kind of rambling solipsism was also an intended effect?). So, congrat ...more
Margaret Carmel
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'd just like to start with saying that Heidi Julavits should be commended for trying to do something creative. This is an ambitious work. I don't think it all came together, but it's unique in a world of mass market fiction and there's something to be said for that.

This bizarre story follows two sisters who are on a hijacked plane, but it is soon apparent that not everything is as it appears. It's hard for me to discuss much of the plot without ruining the experience, but for the first 100 pag
...more
Lynn
Mar 13, 2021 rated it did not like it
Okay. I owned this book, and I have for a long time. So now I finally read it. But why?
The premise is engaging, so I guess I wanted to give it a chance. Clearly she’s a good writer, and she’s clever. But. But!
This book was incredibly annoying. Nothing in the book could be normal or plain. A person can’t just have died. No, she was murdered by crazed teenage girls from a neighboring boarding school. Or pierced by a bamboo tent stake while on a bus driven by an epileptic. A person can’t get a box
...more
Ace
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
The writing of this was excellent, but the plotline was so avant-garde that, frankly, it just sort of flopped.

The surreal story is based on the idea that there's a school for studying terrorists, and this school not only accepts people who are clearly unqualified, but is also run with zero oversight or intelligence. The point, as is emphasized in the first chapter, is to question reality. Do we know why something is the way it is? Do we know whether it is actually the way it is, or perhaps it's
...more
Kristen Fort
May 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book... is interestingly bizarre.

I found it in the cabinet in my office at school. I had never heard of it. I looked it up on Goodreads. A mix bag of reviews. So... that cemented my decision to read it when I get bored at school.

The idea of the Shame Stories is fascinating and macabre.

The whole hijacking experience kept me wondering what direction the novel is going to take next.

Oh, and the use of the word "merkin" - because of a silly Youtube video from a few years ago and I am 100% su
...more
Ann Douglas
Jun 27, 2017 rated it liked it
This is one of the strangest books I've read in a long time. I loved the narrative voice (smart, funny, unpredictable, irreverent, and oh-so-unreliable), but I'm still not quite sure what happened in the story. There were so many characters and even more versions of reality. The net result? I was left feeling like I was solving a puzzle as much as reading a book. ...more
Susan Lesser
Sep 30, 2017 rated it liked it
The premise is fascinating, but I found the book hard to follow. Routinely, I would turn back 1-2 pages because I was certain that I MUST have missed something. I also struggled to connect with the characters, but that is part of what made it interesting. Each one was comprised of both good and bad qualities--like all of us.
Shail Godiwala
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well, well, well! This was a roller coaster ride.

This book gave me a lot of Chuck Palahniuck-esque vibes.

Heidi Jualvits has crafted a brilliant albeit outrageous story where none of the characters' narrative can be relied upon. The way she uses the story to highlight sibling rivalry is mind-blowing.

I'm looking forward to reading more of her work. It is worth re-reading.
...more
Melissa Kelley
May 08, 2021 rated it liked it
This book had a profoundly interesting premise and approach, but it fell flat. I didn’t feel like it actually brought me anywhere; there was no “aha” moment. The characters were almost entirely unlikeable, and not only were key questions not answered, it wasn’t entirely clear what the key questions necessarily were.
Aurore
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Could not finish this book, which is not something I have said about many books. I wanted to like it , as the style was witty, however the more I read the more confused and less engaged I became. Maybe it all pulls together in the end? I guess I will never know.
Julie Kozak
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had to force myself through it. it had some good moments though.
Mike Barnett
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Super great writing, but so thoroughly determined to be clever that it just doesn’t make any sense. Really disappointing because she’s clearly such a talented author.
Gail
Sep 05, 2020 rated it liked it
For those who prefer prose to plot, and reflection more than reality. Writing is quite evocative. This romp would be a superb film.
Kelly Wondracek
May 10, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Chana
Nov 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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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.” 35 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.” 16 likes
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