Have you ever faced a moment in your life where you have two choices in front of you, and you’re not sure what to do? It could be about something important like getting offered two jobs and choosing which one is a better fit; or it could be about deciding if you want to get out of the house and do something on a Saturday afternoon. Eventually we all make a choice, but have you ever wondered what would have happened to you if you had chosen the other path? That is the foundation that author Taylor Jenkins Reid writes her third novel about.
Maybe in Another Life follows Hannah Martin, a twenty-nine year old who is lost, almost completely. She has no idea where her life is headed, she’s moved countless times across the US in search of a home and a purpose, and her most recent relationship ended disastrously. Cue the move back to her hometown of Los Angeles. Upon her return, Hannah goes out for a night on the town with her best friend Gabby as a celebration of her arrival. At the bar she happens upon her high school boyfriend, Ethan. After a couple hours, Gabby asks if Hannah is ready to go home. Hannah is suddenly faced with two choices: does she leave with Gabby? Or does she leave with Ethan?
The rest of the novel is written in parallels, with one chapter covering her choice to go with Gabby and the next covering her choice to go with Ethan. The chapters alternate back and forth in that pattern until the end of the novel. What makes this novel succeed is the fact that the respective storylines are able to remain completely separate and satisfying, while also remaining connected through intriguing methods. Taylor Jenkins Reid is able to effortlessly portray Hannah Martin as two people. Two people who are learning different lessons at different times. The two versions of Hannah are experiencing completely opposite scenarios and yet each one is influencing the other by affecting how you react as a reader. What I mean by that is there were a couple of instances where I caught myself remarking in my head, “I wonder how the other Hannah would react to that information.” So like I mentioned, the storylines remain connected. You are continually learning information about Hannah as a character, even if she in some instances has not learned it about herself. It is the form itself that allows this to be achieved and as you read, it is a very cool effect.
In regards to characterization, Hannah Martin can come off as a little plain. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since Reid from the beginning has set her up as a woman who doesn’t know what she wants out of life. Essentially, Hannah is a blank slate. For a writer that is a refreshing thing, and in this format Reid is able to provide some very compelling situations that Hannah has to contend with, which do make her story. However, there are times I found myself wishing that she possessed a little more conviction.
Where Reid succeeds abundantly, however—and I would say this for all of her novels—is in her secondary characters. As a writer-in-training myself, I’m learning about the difficulties of writing a character of the opposite sex, but Reid appears to show no signs of that being a difficulty, as her male characters tend to end up being the most interesting. Ethan in particular is a spectacular counter-voice to Hannah. Reid never switches narrators to show us his perspective, but we learn enough of his motivations and about him that Reid ends up leaving us wanting more, which is all we can ask for.
Having read all of Reid’s novels at this point, my overall compliment is that her prose is very easy to connect with. The sentences are quite simple, there are no over-the-top or grand metaphors to be found here, and to be honest it can be a welcome relief. Through simplicity, Reid is able to create a very contained world that is rooted in reality. She doesn’t over-describe or over-complicate the plot. She has a clear focus for her characters and her story. Across the internet, I’ve seen other readers categorize Reid’s novels as romance, and while they do have romantic elements to them, I feel that is an incorrect categorization of her work. This is literature. It is about love, sure, but it is also about loss, pain, sacrifice, the capacity of the human heart, and ultimately, I would say hope. It is quirky, it is funny, it is sad, it is happy sad, but it is also optimistic.
In the synopsis on the back of the book, near the end, it asks:
“Is anything meant to be? How much in our lives is determined by chance? And perhaps most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?”
I can’t answer those questions. But Maybe in Another Life I will.