Author: Shari Goldhagen
Rating: 2.5 stars (in some other world, possibly 3)
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
It took me a long time to warm up to In Some Other World, Maybe. Despite some good prose, I never quite got there. There are various reasons for this, some having to do with my personal reading experience (I am almost-on-my-deathbed sick right now, and that feels like only a slight exaggeration), and some having to do with what I felt was an unevenness in the narrative.
In 1992, three groups of teenagers in three cities go to see the big screen debut of a comic book series called Eons & Empires. (The comics deal with alternate dimensions, which is not particularly important, except to the title of the novel). Over the next twenty years Adam, Phoebe, Sharon, and Oliver’s lives intersect in ways both profound and mundane, realistic and surreal.
Problem one: I thought this was going to be a paean to the geeks. A celebration of geek culture. Eons & Empires might be made up, but there was plenty of room for a real, textured world and the geeks that love it. Instead, three fourths of the characters go see the movie as an excuse to make out. The fourth, many years later, very reluctantly calls herself “kind of a closet geek,” but she never seems to have any other scifi interests and even seems ashamed by her fandom.
Eons & Empires shows up periodically in the narrative, but it is in mostly shallow references, or as something cheesy to be made fun of. Which meant that already my notions of what this novel was going to be were destroyed.
Problem two: sex. I don’t mean that there is anything graphic or disturbing in the book. I just mean that is seems like at all times, every single person in this book is solely motivated by sex. Who’s having it with who. Who’s not having it with who. Every single relationship, every single bit of motivation and development, goes back to some sort of sexual experience. In fact, when one of the characters is celibate for seven years, we almost never hear from her at all. It was odd. I was all, “hey, remember X? Did she die or something?” Nope, turns out she just wasn’t banging, and the next time we do see her she’s getting some…*ahem*…manual stimulation, and pining about how maybe it’s time to find a real man again. (she WAS writing a whole goddamn novel. Do we ever see any of that happening? Nope.)
I’m not really a sexual person in any way. I understand that I am somewhat of an aberration, but come on, people do relate to each other in other ways than shoving their junk together.
Which leads me to what tended to bother me about this novel. The cover copy says that “In Some Other World, Maybe sheds light on what it means to grow up in modern America.” I am roughly contemporary with these characters, maybe about ten years younger, but for me I never got that at all. Not the slightest bit. These people and their experiences were so foreign to me, which can be plenty fun to read about, but wasn’t in this setting. I have never met people like these characters, I didn’t feel connected to them or inspired by them, or really, feel anything about them. Adam, who goes through tremendous ups and downs, was probably the character who appealed most to me, even when he was being vicious and gross. The others I have mostly already forgotten.
That’s not to say this is a bad book. The prose is really nice, and there are certain vignettes that really worked well. My ARC suffered from a LOT of typos and errors that were hard to read around, but for the most part the writing was solid. But there were some stylistic choices I considered odd. One of the characters only shows up in second person present tense. When was the last time you saw that in a novel? (Hello, 1984.) (The year, not the novel.) The characters are given vastly unequal amounts of screen time. And the shape of it was odd. I’m all for nontraditional narratives, but there was no particular goal or climax of this novel, what I would consider the most important event to happen to all of the characters occurred pretty solidly in the middle, and at some point I was checking my watch, thinking “God, we still haven’t gotten to 2012 yet?”
So it just didn’t work for me, I’m afraid.