Release date: 28 June 2022
Narrator: Ell Potter
Synopsis: Richly emotive and darkly captivating, with elements of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and the imaginative depth of Margaret Atwood, Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin conjures a community in which girls become wives, wives become mothers and some of them, quite simply, disappear.
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.
Elsewhere, like Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, will divide readers, I feel. It is a dissonant tale, the telling melodic and the narrative visceral, but its message is of the universal, human struggle to simultaneously belong and break free. The desire to reclaim lost innocence. The grief when the reality forms that what once was can never be again. Some questions raised in the book are not answered, while others are given very straightforward answers that don’t feel like resolutions suitable for an ending. The density of the prose requires close attention, and close attention to the prose can pull a reader under until the end causes a violent resurfacing.
Elsewhere contains within its pages many different literary/cinematic vibes--some Shyamalan, some Clarke, some Atwood, some King. It weirded me out and fascinated me at the same time. Vera grows up with the reader, losing her innocence in more than one way while still remaining optimistic about the future and nostalgic about the past. The plot has a mystery to it that can sneak up on you if you’re not expecting it, and it still manages to railroad you if you do.
I can’t really say more about this book without completely giving away the story, except to assert that this is the best, creepiest, most original book I’ve read since Clarke’s Piranesi. While it’s certainly much easier to understand than that realm-jumping mind-bender, I implore you to pick this one up if you’re looking for something amazing and out of the ordinary.
The only drawback to the novel for me, for which it got a .5 star ding, is the story provides no great amount of detail about the main conflict, which was the main feature of the synopsis that drew me into wanting to read it. The resolution is left to the reader to speculate, and I can come up with many reasons for it, but I’ll leave those to the reader. I did not find the lack of detail about this issue too much of a detraction from the fabulous story, but some may have a need for more closure.
As for the audio, I fell asleep sitting straight up in my chair listening to this narrator. I had to be physically active in order to keep from being lulled. Potter was such a pleasure to listen to, though soporific at best (or worst).
My thanks to Celadon Books (Macmillan) via NetGalley for the ALC, for which I give my own, honest opinion.