After reading an interesting description of how the lives of three strangers overlap paths across the country and time, I received a copy of In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The premise of the book rests on the idea that you never know what is going to happen, no matter where we hope or believe our decisions, actions, and desires will eventually lead us. The initial overlapping element between the three characters the story follows involves the Eons& Empires movie, which is also based on a comic book series.
First we are introduced to Adam in Coral Cove, Florida; next to Sharon in Cincinnati, and finally to Phoebe in Chicago. The story starts with the high school versions of the characters and follows their current lots in life, to varying degrees, and the circumstances which lead them to see the premiere of the Eons & Empires movie.
The novel is mostly written in present tense, and a large portion of it is a collection of pieced together sentence fragments. Occasionally the fragments work, or are at least understandable given the style of the novel, but there are times when the fragments are almost cryptic. This is sometimes because the fragments preceding and following are lacking pertinent information..because they’re fragments.
For the most part, it’s written in third person, but randomly it switches to second person, and that happens a couple of times throughout the novel to take up the story of Oliver. In my opinion, one of two things should have happened; Oliver should have been added onto the back cover (I understand he’s not because his and Phoebe’s timeline are woven together at the start, but still) and been properly added into the book, including keeping the third person point of view; OR, the necessary parts of his story should have been woven into information obtained through other characters. I know, it’s difficult, but I feel like the random addition to this obviously more than side character with the unnecessary and jarring switch in point of view only added the complications of the story in hopes of adding drama and conflict, not, I feel, to the richness or strengthening of it.
One major issue I have is the decision not to add any dates after 1992 and some obscure and sometimes vague references to events in the news over the span of years the book covers. The ages of the various characters are scarcely mentioned and easily lost track of given the skipping around of time, places, and people; it was difficult to know how much time had passed at any given moment while reading. I count at least four time I noted my frustration and desire for something as simple as a month and year at the start of the chapters. I am very curious what the reasoning was behind leaving out this information.
Another issue I had with this book involved the numerous occurrences of, generally small details throw in by the author, that I just cannot buy and in some instances, question. One of these is the likelihood of a person, not affiliated or enrolled in a college, allowed to drop into a class just to take notes for a student; any professor I’ve met would suggest you ask another student actually enrolled in the class for notes. Some professors are more lax about this, true, but other are incredibly diligent about the people allowed in the classroom.
Another of these instances includes the owner of a restaurant in a random city would just happen to know some place called the Rosebud in LA, where main character Phoebe worked for an extended period of time as a bartender. I really feel it’s a stretch, though it is a bit less so when the restaurant owner mentions living in California for some time later on in the chapter. But in general the Rosebud is discussed as if everyone in the world would know it.
One last example of this (though this one of the bigger disputes I have) involves main character Sharon, and the cut on her arm. I will leave the details of the circumstance for any readers, but for what is described as “barely pressing” and “only a scratch” does not add up to what seems to be a scar on her arm for many years down the line. The repeated references to it by other characters, as well, makes it seem like far more than it is described to be. Perhaps I’m just not a fan how every interaction involving this cut is described in the book.
All around, the characters were not particularly endearing, filled with depth, or memorable to me. They seem like echoes of popular tropes, and are utilized more as tools and puppets to fuel a drama than characters I felt I could invest in. Also, given the drawn out and ambiguous nature of the plot, there is also no actual ending, at least not to my satisfaction; it seemed like an arbitrary place to stop the story, though this could also be in part due to the lack of dates, if there happens to be some sort of pattern.
I know, I’ve mentioned a lot of the things I disliked about this novel, and honestly, there were just a lot of things that left me uncertain why I was reading, what I was reading, and what the point of it would be in the end. However, Shari Goldhagen has a certain talent for adequately describing an oddly authentic and realistic human voice, in spurts.
One such example is within the first couple of pages and had me rushing to jot down “it was the panic in her eyes that pulverized everything inside of him- the first time he understood the awesome responsibility of being someone’s whole world.” This struck a chord with me and imprinted on my heart.
Another of these moments, I must admit to understanding myself, is the idea that talking about a book, movie, show or something that you love, has the potential to make it less real or weigh it down; I understand wanting to suspend the magic in your own thoughts, reviewing and remembering without any other input.
For these moments, and a general simple enough style to absorb, I continued to read, despite feeling that I had no character to invest it, no one to root for, and no ending to hope for.
I couldn’t say who I would recommend this to; if you’re looking for something you’ve simultaneously probably haven’t ever read before and yet can easily recognize every character from others you’ve met and experienced before. Ultimately, if it sounds interesting to you, go for it, but this book didn’t do a whole lot for me, aside from those particularly memorable quotes that I will, indeed, carry with me.
In Some Other World, Maybe is available for purchase February 10th in hardback and in paperback February 16th.