The Lincoln Highway–Ten Days and Sprawling

The Lincoln Highway

By Amor Towles

Published 2021

Read Dec 2021

This reader’s book club tends to read recently published literary fiction so chose this one for our Jan 2022 discussion.  This reader put holds on all formats of the book in two library systems, both of which had purchased multiple copies due to the expected demand for the book following the author’s success with A Gentleman in Moscow.  This reader was delighted to get both a large print copy (~650 pages) and an audiobook copy fairly quickly.  This reader settled on the audiobook and sent the large print copy on to another eager reader.

This reader did learn about the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental road for automobiles in the United States, dedicated in 1913, but the book is really about four young characters in 1954 who are seeking various futures for themselves. 

Emmett, 18, newly released from a work-camp after serving a sentence for involuntary manslaughter, and his precocious brother Billy, 8, plan to drive from their family home in Nebraska, now in foreclosure after their father’s death, to San Francisco.  Emmett is planning to flip houses there and make enough money to both sustain the business and provide a stable home for his brother.  He is wiling to entertain Billy’s plan to find their mother who left them eight years prior but sent postcards to them on her journey to San Francisco.  The last one, sent on a July 4th, indicated she planned to spend every July 4th holiday in San Francisco.  Thus, their goal is to get to San Francisco and meet her on July 4th.  (Where, how, etc TBD….)    Billy wants to take the Lincoln Highway to get there and Emmett is fine with that as well.

Their plan is disrupted when they go to the barn sheltering Emmett’s car only to discover that two of Emmett’s workcamp mates had stowed away in the warden’s car that had driven Emmett home.  Wallace “Woolly” Wolcott Martin had revealed to his friend Duchess that Woolly’s grandfather had put away $150,000 in cash for him in a safe in the family’s camp in the Adirondacks in New York State.  Woolly is willing to get the money and share with Duchess and Duchess is more than happy to accommodate.

Duchess wants Emmett to go to Woolly’s family camp before going to San Francisco.  Emmett remains focused on getting to San Francisco but is willing to drop Duchess and Woolly off at a train station so they can start their journey east.  Duchess manages to separate Emmett from his car long enough to “borrow” it leaving Billy behind.  Thus starts the adventure of Emmett and Billy trying to catch up with Duchess and Woolly to retrieve their car so they can drive to San Francisco.

Over the course of about 650 pages and ten days, we follow this pair of travelers from Nebraska to the Adirondacks via New York City where Duchess stops to visit some old acquaintances and a suburb of New York City where they all end up at Woolly’s sister’s home.   Over the course of those pages and days, we learn something of the backstory of all the characters; we meet a number of other characters and learn much of their stories; we hear stories from Billy’s beloved compendium of stories about 24 heros by  Abacus Abernathe; we watch Wholly wonder at the sites of New York City he never saw before despite growing up in New York City; we watch Billy learn about the world outside of his limited experiences in Nebraska; we wonder whether the two sets of travelers can actually ever connect; we wonder what will happen if they do.

Certainly, Towls is a clever writer.  He has apparently provided some links between this book and his others that fans may notice and enjoy.  He is able to confidently write about the wealthy characters and their surroundings.  However, despite the length of the book and the time spent on their backstories, the characters sometimes feel fairly flat to this reader, verging on being caricatures: Duchess–the troublemaker from a broken and dysfunctional family raised by a scoundrel father and the whores he visits; Woolly—the hapless friend who is addicted to some kind of “medicine” that keeps him calm and manageable; Emmett—the straight arrow brother focused on getting a fresh start in California; Billy—the precocious brother.  The author provides enough backstory for Duchess to encourage you to consider feeling empathy for him.  The author provides insufficient detail of Woolly’s story to make clear from what he suffers and why he takes the actions he does at the end of the story. This reader wondered if Woolly’s situation was somewhat like that of Rosemary Kennedy, although that is only this reader’s speculation.  Emmett is driven and focused and a good person (the manslaughter he committed was clearly very involuntary and accidental) so the author doesn’t spend too much time with him aside from moving the plot along.  Billy is extremely precocious for an eight-year-old but this reader found his naivete and his reactions to events generally believable.  

This particular reader was sometimes annoyed by the level of detail provided in what seemed like irrelevant tangents.  For example, as Duchess is listening to (someone else’s) records of Frank Sinatra, we listen to him think about how Frank is standing during the song, what he’s wearing, how he’s holding his cigarette, and more.  If a reader can take a lot of time reading the book (or have a completely free day or two to fully devote to it), they will likely savor this detail more than did this reader.  This reader wondered a number of times why the editor didn’t require some trimming….  The writing gets tighter near the end of the book as we hear from several viewpoints the last few scenes of the story.    This reader anticipates that this tighter writing allows reviewers to forget some of the pages that needed editing and for them to provide highly favorable reviews of the book, which this reader agrees are generally merited. More editing would have made this book closer to a “10”, but the book is one that this reader can recommend.   

Oh William—Write On Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton

Published 2016

Oh William

Published 2021

Read Nov 2021

This reader previously read My Name is Lucy Barton and commented on it here.  This reader chose to re-read the book to crawl inside Lucy Barton again and to recall what she had previously told us about William.  This reader was again struck by what she doesn’t tell us because it’s not that important to know all the details.  But we do know Lucy had broken out of poverty—lack of heat and running water in the home, often lack of food, and even more importantly, lack of a feeling of safety from the outbursts of her father and lack of expressed love by anyone.  She escaped this by going to college, meeting and marrying William, moving to New York City, raising two daughters, and becoming a writer—so that others might benefit from books as she did. 

Oh William picks up Lucy’s story as William is about to turn 70; Lucy is eight years younger.  Once again, Lucy is our narrator.  In My Name is Lucy Barton this reader sometimes had a sense that Lucy was having a conversation with the reader.  That feeling is even more pervasive in Oh William.  For instance, Lucy tells you she is pausing for a bit to tell you something and she tells you at other times she has nothing further to say about a topic for now.  We know Lucy is an author.  We’re not certain what’s she written, but she does tell us she’s written about “that part” of her life before so won’t repeat herself and we can assume that My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible were published by our fictional Lucy Barton.   It doesn’t really matter that the reader hasn’t read My Name is Lucy Barton nor Anything is Possible which tells stories about people in Lucy Barton’s home town. The reader has enough information from Lucy in this book to fully experience what Lucy is telling us about her relationship with William and about a trip he requests she take with him.

We never learn why Lucy and William’s marriage of about twenty years fails but Lucy does tell us she was disconnecting from it for some time before the actual breakup.  She does tell us William had some affairs and that she did as well—although this reader isn’t certain that Lucy’s affair happened before Lucy and William separated.   Lucy tells us that she and William have had a generally positive relationship since they broke up which she believes is helpful to her two daughters.

 Both William and Lucy remarry. When the book starts, Lucy’s husband has just recently died after a short illness.  Lucy’s husband had broken away from a deeply religious orthodox Jewish culture so he and Lucy shared the experience of escaping into a culture about which they were both quite naïve.  They apparently had a very satisfying marriage and of course she is mourning his loss as this book opens.  William married a woman who several times had taken Lucy’s girls to see her in the hospital (the setting of My Name is Lucy Barton).  Apparently, William and Joanne had carried on an affair for some six years before Lucy left William and they married thereafter.  Their marriage doesn’t last since Joanne was now past her prime childbearing years, having wasted them waiting for William, and is quite bitter about that and William apparently realized what he most liked about Joanne was that she wasn’t Lucy.  William marries a third time, to a woman twenty some years his junior.  While he intends to have no more children, his wife intends otherwise and they have a daughter who he adores and who his older daughters treat nicely.

Eventually Lucy tells us of the trip that William requests she take with him and that discussion fills most of the rest of the book.  William knew his father was his mother’s second husband, that her first husband was a potato farmer in Maine, and that she met her second husband while he was a German POW working on her husband’s farm.  A gift from one of his daughters to learn more about his background through reveals unexpected information which he seeks to understand.  This initiates the trip that Lucy and William take.  This reader won’t reveal more.  You’ll need to savor Strout’s writing to learn the rest of the story.

Strout has a gift to engage this reader to devour her books as soon as they are available.  The characters she creates, the stories she tells, and the details she leaves the reader to fill in for themselves (or not!) are exceptional.  Write on Elizabeth Strout!

Commonwealth—A Modern Family Saga


By Ann Patchett

Published 2016

Read Nov 2021

This reader has definitely become an Ann Patchett fan.  This book, like The Dutch House, focuses on family, in this case two families that are joined through divorce and remarriage. 

Bert Cousins, a lawyer in the LA district attorney office, shows up uninvited to the christening party for Franny Keating.  He is mainly trying to avoid going home while his pregnant wife, Teresa, deals with their other three kids.  The gallon of gin he brings as a christening party gift helps lubricate the party. When running an errand for Fix (Frances Keating, Franny’s father) Bert encounters Franny’s mother and they share a kiss. 

The author chooses to tell her story in pieces and from the perspective of a number of the characters.  Thus, after the party scene, the next scene is sometime later.  In between the scenes we see, both the Keatings and the Cousins have divorced, Bert Cousin and Beverly Keating have married and moved to Virginia (apparently in part so that Bert Cousins can be geographically isolated from Fix Keating and perhaps personally safer), and the various family parts have gone through a number of cycles of kids spending time with their non-custodial parents during their summer vacation from school.  Beverly’s two girls stay with Fix for two weeks in the summer.  This provides Bert and Beverly a vacation from any kids for two weeks before Beverly’s girls return and the four Cousins children arrive for several weeks. Despite Bert’s stated desire to Teresa, his first wife, that he wants a big family with lots of kids, Bert’s actions continue to suggest otherwise.  Just as he was “consumed with work” when married to Teresa, he suddenly has lots of work requiring his attention when his children visit, leaving Beverly to attempt to manage the six children.

Much of the story is told from the perspective of several of the children and primarily from Fanny Keating’s.  We spend quite a bit of time with her when she is in her twenties and she meets and moves in with a famous writer who is in a writing slump.  She tells him, and us, many stories about the various adventures the six kids had when they were generally unsupervised.  After they break up, the author publishes a new comeback novel, “Commonwealth”, which is a very thinly disguised version of the stories she told him.  Franny was unaware he wrote this book and is quite unsettled by it as are most of her siblings, especially Albie, the youngest Cousin who was born after Beverly and Bert shared that first kiss and likely not too soon before his parents’ divorce. 

Thus, one of the sets of questions Patchett highlights, although she doesn’t answer, is whether it’s ethical to publish a novel or stories that are very closely based on real life stories, especially when “the characters” are unaware of this.  Pat Conroy’s books are closely based on aspects of his own real life and he is quite up front about it.  Many authors have somewhat autobiographical elements in their work.  Often this can make the work feel very believable.  Ann Patchett acknowledges that her life shared some of the aspects of the siblings in this book.  The famous writer in this book does not acknowledge the source of his stories. 

But the most compelling aspect of Patchett’s work is her telling of the stories within this complex family—two sets of children that are thrown together as “step-siblings” by their respective parent’s marriage– and four adults who are parents and step-parents.  There are many sets of interesting relationships—step-siblings with each other, “real” siblings with each other and with their parents, children with their step-parents, and with their “step-siblings” custodial parent.  The novel covers about fifty years so over the course of the book these relationships evolve over time as the kids grow up and the adults age.  All of the scenes are brilliantly and believably told.  A case in point—while now we would equip a child with a bee sting allergy with an epi-pen, these devices weren’t available until 1987 and scene of the six sibling’s adventures on vacation while their parent/step-parent sleep (“We’re sleeping late.  Do not knock.  Eat at the diner.”) is in the 1970’s when anti-histamines a common bee sting kit.  Their adventures that day are hair-raising to the adult in this reader but clearly a rollicky good time for the kids at the time. 

This reader looks forward to reading more from this skillful and engaging author who challenges the reader in subtle and interesting ways. 

Bangkok Wakes to Rain–Much to Say

Bangkok Wakes to Rain

By Pitchaya Sudbanthad

Published 2019

Read Nov 2021

This novel follows an approach somewhat similar to The Overstory: many characters are introduced in separate chapters that seem like separate individual stories.  Unlike The Overstory, all the characters introduced are not brought together at some point.  The closest thing to connection between many of them is a house built in the distant past that is eventually converted to a condominium tower with the last home owner in the penthouse.  In this book, the characters that are introduced are not necessarily even ever seen again, such as an engineering student who gets involved in the student demonstrations in 1973.  He is killed during the demonstration but his girlfriend, Nee, who is a fairly minor character in this chapter, is introduced.  She is one of two sisters whose family members appear in several chapters.  Nok, Nee’s sister has gone to Japan to attend university but stays there and opens a Thai restaurant.  The sisters become estranged when Nok unknowingly serves food to a coronel involved in the student slaughter in 1973 and who later fled when his regime is overthrown.  Nee and Nok’s children and grandchildren are characters in some of the later chapters. 

The timeframe covered in the book is quite large, starting in the late 1800’s with an English doctor who arrives to provide healthcare to a Christian mission, and going to some unspecified time in the future.  The author veers into speculative fiction for these later times.  Bangkok is in 2021 actually already certainly sinking and the country is already suffering from ocean rise due to climate change.  The author takes this aspect further with chapters in which Bangkok is mainly underwater; he amplifies the current disparity of impact of ocean rise related to socioeconomic class. 

He goes another speculative path in chapters with a character, Mia, a friend of a daughter of Nee, who was involved in designing and implementing a technology that allows people to leave their bodies behind and have their minds exist in some sort of virtual reality.  Mia went through this process herself.  She meets her friend, Pig, occasionally in a virtual reality space when Pig undergoes some kind of temporary process that allows her to interact with transformed people.  Pig’s children are encouraging her to undergo the transformation that Mia did before Pig’s body dies, but Pig is resisting. 

So, the book takes on a huge amount of social issue territory and does so somewhat successfully. Climate change, the large gap in resources available to persons on different parts of the socioeconomic ladder, racism, government instability and its impacts among others.  

However, the very loose connection of the various stories and the sometime overly meticulous detail of the geography resulted in a loss of any rhythm of the human stories for which this reader hungered.  This reader stopped about midway in the book and started reading from the beginning again as she had lost track of the various characters.  It didn’t get much easier in the second half but this reader didn’t decide to re-read that half as well and settled for a general impression of the book vs a more detailed and more deep analytical consideration of it.  There is much going on in this book and a reader willing to put in the time and effort will find much to consider.  Certainly, it is a “discussable” book and one that this reader’s book group explored deeply.  As usual, this discussion provided this reader  a much greater appreciation of the book than she had at the start of the discussion. 

This reader is generally glad it was a part of her book group’s schedule so that she persevered through the book.  The author isn’t fully successful but as a debut novel, there is much hope for even better novels to come from this author. 

Waking Lions–Hit and Run and Immigration

Waking Lions

By Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Published 2014

Read May 2019

This is another book whose essay got left behind in a flurry of reading.  However, it is certainly a book to consider reading for its engaging story, its interesting, flawed, and human characters, and for the glimpse it provides of illegal immigrants trying to find a place for themselves away from the hostilities they fled.

The protagonist is a neurosurgeon who, because of a fight with his superior, finds himself working in a desert town rather than Tel Aviv.  One night on his commute home after a long shift, he strikes a man, an Eritrean immigrant, in the road.  He gets of the car long enough to realize the man is likely dead and leaves him where he found him.  The next day, the man’s widow comes to his door with his wallet which he dropped at the scene of the crime.  They enter a black-mail relationship whereby the doctor treats other immigrants, most of whom are in Israel illegally.  The doctor spends his nights and weekends treating these patients while his wife, a member of the local police department, is investigating the hit-and-run accident. 

The book has a thriller feel at times but mainly considers the evolving relationship of the doctor and the widow, the doctor’s relationship with himself and his crime, and the growing gap between him and his wife.   It is a very worthy read.   

Lincoln in the Bardo–Grief Among the Ghosts

Lincoln in the Bardo

By George Saunders

Published 2017

Read Sept 2018

 George Saunders was intrigued by a story he heard about Abraham Lincoln visiting the crypt in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown that temporarily held his son, Willie, who died at age 11 in 1862.  Lincoln apparently visited Willie’s crypt and may have held his body.   Willie’s body was eventually moved to Illinois after Lincoln was assassinated and he lies with his father in Lincoln’s tomb.

 Saunders created a story involving a number of ghosts who may or may not know they are dead, or at least don’t necessarily acknowledge it. It seems adults can live in an “interim” state as a ghost for a long time but children need to leave this “interim” state fairly quickly or meet some unspecified consequence.   The various characters watch the funeral, interact with Willie’s ghost, watch Lincoln visit him, and eventually counsel Willie to leave his ghost state for the “beyond”.  They even inhabit Lincoln temporarily to encourage him to let Willie go. 

This reader recommends listening to the audio version of this very unusual literature piece. Saunders recruited actors, friends, and even family to record this book which includes 166 characters.  In between comments from the various characters (complete with a line that specifies the character’s name) there are snippets from various newspapers and books that report various events happening in real life during the period of Willie’s illness, death, and internment.  These too are attributed to their source, although it’s not clear which are real and which might be manufactured.  Regardless, they are useful to the reader to provide context to what preceded and followed Willie’s death, although the various sources don’t necessarily agree on many of the details. 

Certainly, the reader needs to suspend disbelief and just surrender to the concepts and format Saunders has devised.  Once the reader understands them, which wasn’t instantaneous for this reader and was helped by looking at a written version of the book, it’s quite an interesting approach to this story of Willie’s death and Lincoln’s grief.    The grief Lincoln felt when Willie died is not an invention but well documented, and Saunders certainly captures that well.  The concept that Willie must finish his trip to the beyond and that both he and Lincoln must suffer great sorrow to enable this is quite convincing, even if the characters that are involved are ghosts. 

While this reader anticipates that the written word works fine for the book, this reader is convinced that the audio version will provide an even deeper experience and one not to be exceeded for some time. 

Let the Norther Lights Erase Your Name–A Search for the Past

Let the Northern Light Erase Your Name

By Vida Vendela

Published 2007

Read April 2018 and July 2021

This reader didn’t write an essay about this book when first read not because it wasn’t worthy of it but because she just plain got behind.  In fact, this reader re-read the book a few months ago and might re-read it again.  Clearly much attraction to this book…

The protagonist loses her father abruptly when he dies in his sixties of a heart attack.  When working through his estate our protagonist finds her birth certificate which indicates he is not her biological father after all.  She had suffered another abrupt loss of a parent when her mother walked out on the family years prior, when our protagonist was 14, with no warning.  It turns out her fiancée, Pankaj, (the boy next door) learned from his mother about the paternity secret some fifteen years earlier but never told our protagonist.  Feeling fully abandoned and tricked by everyone she knows, our protagonist takes off for Lapland, a region in northern Finland, to find the father listed on her birth certificate.  The story follows our protagonist on her long and not simple journey to the church where her supposed biological father is a minister.  There she learns that he isn’t her real father either.  She doggedly pursues her quest to learn more about her mother, her real father, why her mother left her family, and how she should view herself now. 

So, the attraction to read was and is the interesting journey the protagonist takes to find out about her past, the descriptions of the geography and the particulars of the journey, and the people she meets.  The tardiness in writing about this very interesting book?   The protagonist’s journey is difficult physically and mentally and what she learns is difficult to digest for her and for the reader.  How to move on?  It’s not obvious to her or this reader. 

This reader may read yet again to seek a path forward.  Definitely worth the read. 

The Blessing Way and A Thief of Time and Tony Hillerman

The Blessing Way

Published 1970

Read Sept 2021

A Thief of Time

Published 1988

Read Oct 2021

By Tony Hillerman

The Blessing Way introduced Joe Leaphorn to readers. Hillerman eventually wrote 18 novels involving Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee (both members of the Navajo Tribal Police).  In this first Joe Leaphorm novel, Leaphorn is actually not the primary character in this mystery, but he does play an important role.  The novel does have characteristics that are found in all of the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee novels:  they immerse the reader in the geography and history of the Four Corners (Arizona/Utah/Colorado/New Mexico) region; they provide the reader insights into   Navajo culture; and they provide both an interesting mystery and a human story about one or more of the characters.

In A Thief of Time, artifacts from the ancient Anasazi people are being extracted from ruins and sold in potentially illegal ways.  People potentially involved show up dead or missing.  Joe Leaphorn recruits Jim Chee to help him understand what’s going on.

 A very powerful aspect of this book is that Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are both grieving the loss of a romantic relationship.  Joe Leaphorn’s wife of thirty years has died unexpectantly following surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.  His mourning has led him to a deep depression and to put in his retirement papers.  He becomes interested in finding an academic focused on Anasazi pottery who has gone missing shortly before his retirement date and he becomes engaged in understanding the situation.  Jim Chee and his girlfriend are splitting up, not for lack of love, but because neither can commit to living in the other’s culture and geography:  the Navajo reservation/culture or Washington DC/white culture.    Both men are hurting but both men rally to do their jobs.

This reader will continue to read through Hillerman’s 18 Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee novels.  The mysteries are interesting.  But the human stories and the language that describe them and the geography, history,  and culture within which they occur are the biggest draws. 

Spectator Bird–Considerations of Time and Life

The Spectator Bird

By Wallace Stegner

Published 1976

Read Oct 2021

Joe Allston was a successful literary agent in New York City for many years.  About eight years prior to the start of this story he and his wife moved to a house outside of San Francisco after he retired.  Apparently, they were pretty active socially initially and enjoyed showing off their property and Ruth’s excellent cooking.  They have started losing friends to the usual reasons associated with retirement and have become more withdrawn from society.  At the same time, Joe has started experiencing the usual aches and pains that accompany aging.

One day they receive a postcard from Astrid, a Countess from whom they rented rooms in her apartment while in Denmark 20 years ago after the death of their son (accident?  Suicide?  Not clear…) and a serious illness Joe suffered.  Initially Joe doesn’t tell Ruth they received the postcard but does later that evening when he brings journals from that time into their bedroom where they spend their evenings reading and watching TV.  Ruth convinces Joe to read the journals aloud although both of them anticipate the experience will incur some pain for both of them.  Ruth is interested in “getting the pebble out of her shoe” regarding what really happened between Joe and Astrid.

The book alternates between sessions reading the journal (with its extensive details including dialog…) and present day (~1976) in which Joe narrates their various events, including a visit from a former client who is a famous Italian author, and Joe’s thoughts about his current physical and mental state. 

While it’s clear the “current” and “past” sections both occurred in the past (no cell phones, no computer searches but rather investigations using “Who’s Who” and other written documents in a library) much is quite universal and timeless.  As someone who has been retired about seven years and who also moved to an enviable lake house, this reader found Joe’s comments very close to home at times.  Certainly, the story of their trip to Denmark provides some startling details but the most relevant aspects for this reader are about Joe’s review of his current situation and how he came to it.  His comments about never really choosing his path but rather just bumping along it are quite raw and relevant to many of us. In addition, Stegner’s language and descriptions of their current and past environments and actions are exquisite.  It’s quite easy to understand why this book won the National Book Award when it was published.  This reader’s advice:  read and savor. 

The Midnight Library—Alternate Lives Explored

The Midnight Library

By Matt Haig

Published 2020

Read Oct 2021

The genre into which these novel falls isn’t obvious—not science fiction nor speculative fiction by this reader’s definition but certainly requiring the reader to accept an interesting premise.  In this case the premise is that when at least some people are about to die, they enter a library of alternate lives.  For the main character, Nora, the library looks like the library in her school and is maintained by Mrs. Elm, the school librarian.  For another character, the library is of DVDs in a DVD store.  Regardless, the person of interest is confronted with a large number of alternate lives that would have been (or are actually?) had they made a different decision at some point in their life.

Nora’s “root life” is miserable—she’s out of a job; her cat has just died; her parents have passed; she is estranged from her brother; and she has just broken off an engagement days before the planed wedding. She just wants to die and has taken excessive anti-depressants and washed them down with alcohol.  But she wakes up in the library with Mrs. Elm who tells her she can try out an alternative life.  If it doesn’t work out, she will automatically return to the library and can try another.  Mrs. Elm suggests Nora look at her Book of Regrets to help her decide which decision she’d like to have been different which will pick the alternate life she will start leading. 

Nora has many regrets including: dropping out of competitive swimming despite the possibility of becoming an Olympic star; quitting the band she is in with her brother just as they are close to being signed by a record company; breaking off the engagement with her fiancée; not following her dream to become an artic geoscientist.  The book follows Nora through a number of alternate lives.  An interesting aspect of this is that Nora brings only her current memories and knowledge with her so she doesn’t hold the history of becoming, for instance, a PhD geoscientist and the academic papers she wrote in this life.  So part of Nora’s immediate attention in the alternate life is to figure out what she knows and has done—easier in some cases than others.  It’s also not clear what happens to the Nora she displaces when she tries out this alternate life.  The reader just needs to accept and move on.  This reader was willing.

Some reviewers have complained that the story is told “straight line” and too simply.  That Nora’s story is just a vehicle to discuss alternate universe theory and provide some therapy to the reader.  That the story isn’t quite dark enough, Nora’s character not engaging enough, etc.  This reader reads lots of dark, complex novels, some of which tend to reach for complexity without finding the point of that complexity.  So, this reader quite appreciated the “simplicity” of this book and its interesting material, some of which is, frankly, therapeutic for readers of a certain age that wonder “what if”. While “simple” and “straight line” , it did provide this reader, at least, a number of things to consider while Nora is working through alternate lives and deciding whether or not she really wants to die—or not.