I’m really into science-fiction TV and movies: Star Trek, Star Wars… I love them both. Weirdly enough, however, is that my enthusiasm for the genre hasn’t really translated much over to literature. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when stories take place in an alternate reality (like Harry Potter or any of the great YA trilogies), but I’d not consider much that I’ve read science-fiction… if anything.
That’s why when I saw the description for If, Then by Kate Hope Day in NetGalley, I thought this would be a great way to marry science-fiction with literary fiction and maybe push me into the genre a little more. But boy, this book really wasn’t what I thought I was signing up for.
In the quiet haven of Clearing, Oregon, four neighbours find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in parallel realities. Ginny, a devoted surgeon whose work often takes precedence over her family, has a baffling vision of a beautiful co-worker in Ginny’s own bed and begins to doubt the solidity of her marriage. Ginny’s husband, Mark, a wildlife scientist, sees a vision that suggests impending devastation and grows increasingly paranoid, threatening the safety of his wife and son. Samara, a young woman desperately mourning the recent death of her mother and questioning why her father seems to be coping with such ease, witnesses an apparition of her mother healthy and vibrant and wonders about the secrets her parents may have kept from her. Cass, a brilliant scholar struggling with the demands of new motherhood, catches a glimpse of herself pregnant again, just as she’s on the brink of returning to the project that could define her career.
At first the visions are relatively benign, but they grow increasingly disturbing—and, in some cases, frightening. When a natural disaster threatens Clearing, it becomes obvious that the visions were not what they first seemed and that the town will never be the same.
I’m going to be honest here: I almost didn’t finish this book. The characters were just regular people, living regular lives, and though that sometimes makes the book relatable, in this case, it meant that I felt absolutely nothing was happening.
Sure, there were people having these visions of an alternate reality, but no one was doing anything about it; they were just sort of accepting it as is. And Cass didn’t even start seeing these visions until three-quarters of the way through the book… and I was beginning to question what she was doing there.
I was really hoping there was going to be a sci-fi story here…and there wasn’t. There is an explanation as to what happens to these people, but I found it unsatisfying. The only reason I gave it any star at all was because I like the way Cass’s storyline didn’t quite fit into everyone else’s. I like that she was the piece that didn’t quite fit. It made for a slightly more interesting conclusion.
But if you’re looking for some big mystery to be solved, some bad guy to catch or some science-fictiony twist, you’re not going to get it. What you get is the story of these ordinary people, doing ordinary things and sharing a common experience. Which is a great big metaphor for life, I suppose. Look for it in stores everywhere on March 12.
Food for thought
It is interesting to think about the choices you made in life, and how making one little one could affect the path you were “supposed” to take. Every so often I like to think about what could have happened if I would have not moved to England for a year, or taken one job over another…but then I think about how much I love my life now and how I wouldn’t have it any other way. Do you believe in fate? Or do you think there’s an alternate timeline somewhere where you’re living a completely different existence?
“She has it down on paper now: her life, the life she shares with Leah and Amar, is only one of an infinite number of possible lives in the multiverse. These other realities are not hypothetical. They are real.” —Kate Hope Day, If, Then
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced copy, and to Leo Serrat on Unsplash for the featured photo of the mountainside.