Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Other Life Offers a Look (Or Possibly More) at the Path Not Taken
In her novel The Other Life, Ellen Meister examines the two pivotal events that haunt Quinn: her mother's suicide, first and foremost; and her break-up with Eugene, a troubled radio personality whom Quinn was in a relationship with just prior to her marriage. The mother-daughter relationship between Quinn and Nan, her mother, is in many ways typical. However, Meister throws mental illness into the mix, as well. Nan has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a disease that eventually causes her demise. Meister expertly illustrates the often-difficult, but always-loving interactions between the two women. She does so in a wide array of scenes, from flashbacks, to private moments of Nan painting, to moments which are pure fantasy.
The fantasy aspect rarely works for me as a reader, but in Meister's hands, even the most unbelievable impossibility seems an easy reality. Quinn has long been aware of a parallel life that exists, one in which she stayed single and (somewhat) happy with Eugene. In that world, her son Isaac and her unborn daughter do not exist; her marriage to Lewis was never a thought. Now, for the first time, Quinn begins to consider crossing over from her "real" life to the parallel one accessible through various portals she can simply feel.
Can she leave Lewis, Isaac, and the baby, while simultaneously leaving behind all the heartache of this life? Is the life she's living on the other side that much better than what she has?
Meister has written a novel that speaks of the human spirit, with all its desires, selfishness, longing, and greed -- and yet, Meister also writes of enormous love and sacrifice. In her hands, Quinn is not a monster who dreams of leaving her family, but rather a broken woman seeking solace from all that ails her. As a reader, I struggled with Quinn's decisions as much as she did. Rather than seeming purely selfish, Quinn is a vibrant character who will fill readers with genuine empathy.
Ellen Meister is the author of two other novels, Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA and The Smart One. HBO has optioned The Other Life as an upcoming television series. Meister's publisher, Berkley Trade (a division of Penguin), is offering a giveaway copy to readers of A Worn Path. Scroll down or click here to enter to win your own copy of the novel. For more about Meister, visit her website or her blog Side Dish.