This is the first Jo Walton book that I have read and only heard about her through reading Cannonball Read reviews (thanks, guys!). Although this isn’t the Walton title that I was looking for at the library (Among Others), it sounded interesting and landed in my TBR pile. I was truly captivated by the first 2/3. The last 1/3? Not so much.
A woman suffering from dementia, and now confined to a nursing home, reflects on her life. Pretty straight forward, BUT, she “remembers” two separate lives with different partners, children and world history. Everything hinges on one moment where she must decide to accept a marriage proposal or not. Alternating chapters lay out her life based on whether she accepts or rejects that proposal.
The first 2/3 of the book was riveting. Following Pat/Trish (her name is different in each timeline) as she navigates both a life as Mark’s wife and the life she has after declining his proposal, the narrative moves rapidly through chunks of time in each scenario. Each story is told in a very straightforward and detached way. This works when relating the events in her lives and helps to delineate the two but quickly loads multiple characters into the mix with family friends, children etc. who are mostly unique to one thread. It gets confusing and the detached summarization bleeds into the dialogue between the characters. The conversations are stilted and awkward and often cringe worthy. My sympathy with or connection to the characters broke down a little at that point. The alternate history aspect of each story became aggravating as well. In one thread, humans begin to live and study on the moon. In the other thread, everyone fears that the moon will be used as a nuclear missile launch site. Both are fine, but each point was mentioned relentlessly in a way that didn’t further the plot.
As I was struggling with a jumping point to write my review, I skimmed through reviews of this book to see if others felt the same way that I did about it. Most of the issues with it boiled down to arguments for and against it being considered a science fiction novel. Many were unsatisfied with an ending that did not explain how the woman could have lived two distinct lives/timelines. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the lack of explanation. I don’t think the how, why or if it really happened (or was just part of her dementia) was important. In the end, I think the book was more about how short life is, the frailty and the strength of human beings and the relationships that we have throughout our lives and at the end of them.
This would be a 4 star for me if the last part of the novel hadn’t let me down. I didn’t need the story to be overly sentimental. In fact, the detachment worked to make it more powerful for me. The robotic dialogue at the end just pulled me out of the story too much.