If I knew I had another life, I would constantly wonder. Would I be jealous? Would I second guess my choices knowing there may be an alternative? Would I have the courage to try out that other life? This is what made Ellen Meister's book so appealing to me --- yes, we can all fantasize about another life, but it doesn't exist. For the main character in THE OTHER LIFE, it does.
Quinn Braverman is living a happy life in Long Island with her husband Lewis and son Isaac. Pregnant with their second child, Quinn is crushed when she finds out that something may be seriously wrong with the baby. Doctors can't answer her questions, and more than ever she longs to talk to her mother who committed suicide shortly after her marriage to Lewis. The simple, stable life she worked so hard for is slowly slipping away with each new day. But Quinn has a secret, one she barely lets herself think about --- she has another life. In her staid Long Island home, hidden in the basement behind an old ironing board, is a portal to her other life.
For years she stayed away from it, never even letting herself imagine what it would be like, but the stress associated with her pregnancy and the decisions she and Lewis may have to face regarding their baby's life finally weigh on her. She finds herself hovering around the portal until one day, unable to ignore it any longer, she gives in and goes through. She finds herself back in the Manhattan apartment she shared with her ex-boyfriend, and, even more surprising, her mother, Nan, is alive and well.
The complications associated with Quinn's pregnancy are certainly a reason for wanting to escape, but in truth, she wants to know why her mother took her own life. While Nan always had mental health issues that Quinn understood to be the underlying cause for her suicide, she never fully accepted her death. She misses her, especially now, when she's questioning whether or not she will be able to care for a possibly disabled child. She keeps going back to her other life in the hope of understanding her mother better, but in many ways it seems she's doing it not just to escape a difficult situation --- which her pregnancy definitely is --- but for necessary closure over her mother's death. Can she really leave her husband and child forever? Unfortunately, having a life with her mother in it means leaving everything she cherishes behind.
Parts of this book fascinated me and others infuriated me. Quinn is a character you can identify with. She's any woman living a life that one day takes an incredibly unexpected turn. She wants escape, or at least a way to understand why things are happening. She has that means of escape, and when she uses it the first time, I felt I understood. But when she kept going back, I became frustrated with her. It was almost as if she was trying to decide whether or not to abandon her family. Fortunately, I didn't stay annoyed with Quinn for very long. She was too likable for that. Plus, I was enthralled with what she would find each time she slipped through the portal.
In many ways this is a family story, barring the other life portal, that examines a character's life choices, and her muses about whether she made, and is making, the right decisions. Quinn is a strong character, but she has her faults, and I liked that she wasn't able to do away with any of these simply by slipping into another world. In the end, Meister leaves you with a bumpy road, but one you'll want to travel.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on December 2, 2011
The Other Life