Vera grows up in a small town, removed and isolated, pressed up against the mountains, cloud-covered and damp year-round. This town, fiercely protective, brutal and unforgiving in its adherence to tradition, faces a singular affliction: some mothers vanish, disappearing into the clouds. It is the exquisite pain and intrinsic beauty of their lives; it sets them apart from people elsewhere and gives them meaning.
Vera, a young girl when her own mother went, is on the cusp of adulthood herself. As her peers begin to marry and become mothers, they speculate about who might be the first to go, each wondering about her own fate. Reveling in their gossip, they witness each other in motherhood, waiting for signs: this one devotes herself to her child too much, this one not enough—that must surely draw the affliction’s gaze. When motherhood comes for Vera, she is faced with the question: will she be able to stay and mother her beloved child, or will she disappear?
Provocative and hypnotic, Alexis Schaitkin’s Elsewhere is at once a spellbinding revelation and a rumination on the mysterious task of motherhood and all the ways in which a woman can lose herself to it; the self-monitoring and judgment, the doubts and unknowns, and the legacy she leaves behind.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
Thank you to Celadon and to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
What makes a mother a good mother or a bad mother? That’s the question on every woman’s mind in the small town Vera lives in. Unable to remember her own mother, she begins to wonder how or if she’ll be remembered or missed if/when she too disappears.
I admit it. The cover sucked me in on this one. Then I read the synopsis and the idea of a dystopian novel centered around motherhood totally pulled me in. Unfortunately, I almost DNF this one.
For the majority of the book (the first 57% according to my Kindle app), I wasn’t sure what I was reading. The writing is beautiful, mostly, with a few exceptions here and there, but it all went on like a giant run-on sentence the majority of the time. The book is broken up into 5 parts without any chapter breaks or thought breaks it would seem. I can only imagine how that must read on the audiobook. This made it super slow-going and I had a hard time keeping my eyes open.
I was also super confused by the pronoun usage in the first half, as the narrative kept switching from “we” to “I” and back again. After reading the last third of the book, I understand why it was written this way. Still, it was quirky, and kept me focusing on trying to figure out who was talking exactly instead of the story. It went on this way for two-thirds of the book.
In addition to the sometimes confusing pronoun usage, it is obvious that the town Vera lives in is not normal, mothers disappearing into thin air, their images being burned and their belongings being divided up among those who remain. I get that these things and others are used to add to the mystique of the town, but it is never really explained and there doesn’t really appear to be much purpose to any of it. I’m left with more questions than answers, as this book asks you to just ride with it and take it on faith. I tried, and it came through in the end, but it was hard getting to that point.
Things quickly started to make more sense in the last third, and the book finally became more interesting as pieces fell together. After finishing this book, I find myself torn. The writing was very lovely and I did end up liking the book by the time I finished, but given how many times I almost didn’t pick this book back up again, I can’t rate it any higher than three out of five.
Until next time, keep flipping those pages!
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