“What If?”

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“What If?”

Novels About Choice, Chance, and Parallel Lives

We often ask ourselves what the outcome of our lives would be if fate dealt us another hand or we made a different choice when faced with divergent paths. The novels below allow the readers to explore that eternal question “what if?” What if one small decision changes a person’s life in drastic ways? What if an individual could make a different choice?  

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah Martin has no idea what to do with her life. Since graduating college, she has jumped from city to city and job to job searching for meaning and purpose, yet finding neither. Hannah decides to move back home to Los Angeles to live with her best friend Gabby after another failed effort leaves her disappointed and disheartened. When the two run into Hannah’s high school sweetheart, Ethan, during a night on the town, she is given a fateful choice: end the night early and go home with Gabby or stay and reconnect with the one that got away. What effects will each decision have on Hannah’s future? The novel concurrently explores the two directions Hannah’s life takes and the consequences of a single choice on her and on those she loves. The novel explores questions of fate, love, and friendship and whether soul mates exist.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
“Later, Eva will think, If it hadn’t been for that rusty nail, Jim and I would never have met.”

One afternoon in 1958, Cambridge students Eva and Jim meet unexpectedly: after a rusty nail pitches Eva from her bicycle, Jim comes to her aid and sparks fly immediately. So begins Laura Barnett’s debut novel, The Versions of Us... or at least that’s one of its beginnings. The novel offers three variations of the couple’s love story in alternating chapters. In one version, Eva and Jim fall wildly in love and marry. In another, they never meet and Eva ends up with her longtime partner, David. In the final version, Eva and Jim’s relationship is threatened by a momentous decision. With its clever plot and eloquent prose, this book is highly recommended for fans of One Day by David Nicholls. In fact, it is frequently described as a blend of that novel and the film Sliding Doors.

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
Best-selling author Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) delivers an engaging novel that utilizes a parallel universe structure to show how one woman’s future unfolds with two drastically different lovers. Children’s book illustrator Irina McGovern is an American expatriate living a quiet and settled life in London with her longtime partner, Lawrence. Yet Irina is beginning to feel that their relationship has become a bit too comfortable and routine. When the couple’s old friend Ramsey Acton, a passionate, spontaneous snooker player, invites her out to celebrate his birthday, Irina faces a romantic temptation that splits her destiny in two: should she kiss Ramsey or not? What follows is a gripping, honest narrative that alternately explores the ramifications of both decisions. One of the most compelling aspects of this novel is Shriver’s psychologically astute characterization of Irina.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, Paul Auster’s sweeping novel 4 3 2 1 is a bildungsroman with a twist. Set in America during the tumultuous 1950s and 60s, the novel follows Archibald Isaac Ferguson from birth to young adulthood in four divergent yet simultaneous narratives. Though the variations of Ferguson’s life differ in significant ways, some constants remain: Ferguson’s devotion to his mother, his intense (sometimes romantic, sometimes familial) relationship with his soul mate Amy, and, most importantly, Ferguson himself. 4 3 2 1 is a hefty novel (866 pages) with heavy themes, but it is well worth the commitment.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Jason Dessen leads a pleasant – albeit unexciting – life. He is a physics professor at a small but well-respected college, he is married to a beautiful and talented woman, and he has a teenage son of whom he is incredibly proud. Jason’s quiet existence is upended when a masked abductor transports him to a world where he is himself, yet not himself. In this new world, Jason is a brilliant quantum physicist. Instead of abandoning his ambitions to start a family, this Jason has discovered something seemingly impossible: inter-dimensional travel.  The story follows Dessen as he travels to alternate realities and meets different versions of himself, all in attempts to get back to his rightful universe and, most importantly, his family. Fast- paced and suspenseful, this thriller will keep you riveted.