“I began to know what women here had always known: We were endangered, but we were dangerous, too; our peril was also our power.”
“Elsewhere” is not my usual type of read. With elements of dystopian fiction, it is speculative fiction with an almost Margaret Atwood feel. That being said, I did enjoy it much more than I expected to. Why? The author’s writing was a pure joy to read. Her phrasing and narrative flow made the read almost poetic at times. There was a sense of sensory descriptiveness which spoke to the inherent love of place that many of us have.
The setting of the book made the reader feel as damp and chilled as the weather there. Imagine if you will, living in the clouds – the feeling of a damp, moist blanket surrounding you. The exact setting remains illusive, but you are led to believe it is somewhere in the Himalayas – but without seasons. The peculiar town was very remote and isolated from everywhere ‘Elsewhere’. An insular society stemming from the author’s imagination with flora and fauna unlike anything I’ve ever heard of. A place where mothers suffer from an ‘affliction’.
The time period was also unspecified. The town seemed ‘backward’ in many respects but that could be attributed to its bizarreness and isolation as much as the calendar.
The protagonist, Vera, is a sixteen year old whose mother has been gone for several years when we first meet her. She is in her final year of school and works with her silent and emotionless father at his photography store called ‘Rapid’ where he sells and develops film. We follow Vera through her young adulthood up to when she becomes married to Peter and a mother herself.
Motherhood is the main theme here – but it is explored as no other book I’ve ever read before. The speculative aspect of how some of the mothers in the book are suddenly not dead, but ‘GONE’, unnerved me. How the other women in the town acted after the mother was gone I found to be even more unsettling. The novel examines parental feelings of guilt, blame, inadequacy while it expounds on motherhood’s anxieties and desperation.
“A mother was a chance to hate someone as much as you loved them, caring and wounding, a push and pull that only tightened the knot that bound you.”
This is a memorable novel, and one I’m glad I took the time to read. That being said, it was WAY out of my comfort zone genre-wise. I appreciate that sometimes it is very healthy to extend your reading experiences. I deeply appreciated the writing, but the overall feel left me uncomfortable and somewhat melancholy. Perhaps that is what the author was aiming for?
Recommended to readers who enjoy superbly written speculative fiction.3.5 stars rounded up for NetGalley and Amazon.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Sandra Moore at Celadon Books via NetGalleyPublication date: June 28, 202s
Publisher: Celadon Books
ISBN: 9781250219633 ASIN: B09CNDLJ2S – 240 pagesI participated in the Celadon Books “Little Free Library Drop Day” on June 16th when I donated my paper copy of “Elsewhere“:
Alexis Schaitkin’s debut novel, Saint X, was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2020 and was critically acclaimed by the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, and Good Morning America. It was recently picked up for a series adaptation by Hulu and has been translated into seven languages.
Elsewhere, from Celadon Books is her second novel. Her short stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-required Reading. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow.
She lives in Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, with her husband and their two children.