At the age of 29, Hannah Martin has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan? In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah as well as the people around her.
Simple Premise, Impactful Outcome
After Why?, I’m certain the most popular question is, What if? Second-guessing our choices is human nature. Maybe in Another Life taps precisely on this. What if Hannah chooses to do one thing? What is she goes with the alternative instead? Maybe in Another Life presents two options and how they could possibly turn out differently. These alternative outcomes are told though concurrent storylines.
As the two storylines unfold, various truths emerge. While something might be evident in one “universe”, it might not even become apparent in the other. Yet as the reader who knows both possible outcomes, there’s a greater level of omniscience that surpasses most singular stories, even if they’re told in third person narrative.
Knowing something from one universe that added greater understanding to the alternative gave me a strangely satisfying feeling. I say strange because without the alternative universe, I wouldn’t always have come to understand the actions of the people Hannah knew. Yet with the artfully woven alternatives, I learnt things that Hannah couldn’t know in her respective circumstances.
Initial Worries about the Audiobook
At first I had some misgivings because the chapters weren’t clearly marked for the listener to differentiate. There was one narrator who unified both universes. That did lead to some initial confusion on my part — mostly because I missed the point of divergence in the story. I had to rewind to realize that the storylines had come to alternate.
Once I was aware of the switches to and fro, however, differentiating the stories wasn’t too hard. This was helped by the stark difference in life circumstances. It also helped that beyond her best friend, the significant people in her life varied according to the storyline that was currently the focus.
Food for Thought
Besides the solid storytelling, I liked that Maybe in Another Life forced me to reflect on my own life. I tend to do that a lot anyway but it really made me sit down and think hard. What if I had grown up in São Paulo or Nairobi? Two very real possibilities that weren’t pursued. I could’ve grown up to be a completely different person in either of these places, I’m sure.
While the difference in situations of Maybe in Another Life weren’t that drastic in terms of location, it still aptly reminded me that there isn’t always a right or wrong answer to life. Making one bad choice could lead to many good ones, so who’s to say one path is any worse than the other?
Maybe in Another Life
The title itself, Maybe in Another Life, already implies that things could have turned out differently. It grappled with the notion of fate vs. choice in a very clever way. Rather than theorising about the dichotomy though, Reid demonstrated how intertwined these notions truly are. These concepts are so much larger than our tiny minds can ever possibly conceive. Thus, for successfully exploring these through fiction, I applaud her.
Alexa S. says
I really enjoyed Maybe in Another Life! I love Taylor Jenkins Reid a whole lot, and I think her perspective on things (whether the conundrum of fate and destiny, or the trials and triumphs of a marriage for instance) are always so intelligent and so interesting. I’m glad to see that you enjoyed this one as well!