In one word: Possibility
Cannonball Read Bingo: Question
This book was been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I couldn’t get it done! I checked it out from the library two separate times and returned it unopened. I actually opened a copy that was at our vacation house last year, but when I realized it was an imagining of what happens after you die, and likely would leave me with more questions than answers, the timing was bad. I had juuuust finished T.J. Klune’s amazing and heart-rending “Under the Whispering Door” (about a man who dies and is surprised to find himself in an in-between place, wrestling with taking the final steps to whatever is next) so it was too soon for me to do more mortality pondering. But finally, the book came home to roost when my work book club picked it for the September selection. Victory!
The bones of this book are great. Nora, by her own estimation, has squandered her life and has nothing left to live for. After taking the matter into her own hands, instead of finding herself faced with nothingness, she finds herself in the titular Midnight Library which is filled with volumes of books that show all the possibilities in her own life if she had made different choices along the way: not breaking off her engagement, moving instead of staying, sticking with swimming, etc. To borrow from the movies, this book is one part “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and one part “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s an exploration of sliding doors and multiverses and woulda couldas.
This book starts strong but becomes too heavy-handed as we follow Nora down her many divergent paths; she and George Bailey would have made quite the pair, hand-wringing over missed opportunities and what-ifs, quite the teeth-gnashing pair. Also, what we are shown is that with a few modifications, she could have had a wildly successful life (Olympian, rock star, to name a few). Haig never addresses the privilege of this character that all of her options seem to be pretty great. In one permutation, the simple life she so easily shrugs off represents the unrealistic dream of someone from a different background or social status. I don’t think Haig would have had to do much to address it, but it’s a bit hard to stay engaged with a protagonist who is so self-focused.
Ratings-wise I landed on four overall but teetered toward three when Haig got too heavy into his science and pseudoscience explanations of multiverses. I was much more into the examination of regret and the awakening of the lonely woman story than I was the “how” of his magical system. As regret is a shared human condition, it was interesting to see someone get to make the “other” choice and see how it plays out. Her wanderings were a nice reminder that it’s easy in hindsight to regret something and imagine how great it could have been if you’d chosen the other job, another partner, etc. but the road not taken could have been worse than the one you chose.