Maybe in Another Life
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Length: 9 hours
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Original Publication Date: 2015
Genre(s): Adult fiction, Contemporary, Romance
After years of city-hopping and job-swapping, Hannah finally moves back to her hometown in California. She moves in with her best friend Gabby and Gabby’s husband Mark. To celebrate Hannah’s fresh start and homecoming, they go to a bar and spend the night catching up with old friends. But Hannah is really only there to see one person: Ethan, her high school boyfriend. Hannah never really stopped loving Ethan, and she’s thinking maybe they can chat the night away and see where things go. At the end of the night, Gabby asks Hannah if she wants to come home with her; a moment later, Ethan says he’d be happy to take Hannah home in a few hours. Could this simple decision really change the outcome of Hannah’s life? Would leaving with Gabby affect her life the same as staying with Ethan?
Maybe in Another Life has got to be the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s told in first-person alternating chapters—the ‘go home with Gabby’ storyline with the ‘stay out with Ethan’ one. I was a little worried listening to it, at first. With audiobooks, I tend to stay away from books with alternating chapters. Typically, that happens when there are multiple narrators. As this book has only one narrator, but two concurrent storylines, I felt I would be safe. And it turns out, I was right! I was never confused at all; I always knew which Hannah was narrating. The chapters were short enough that I was able to bounce back and forth easily, but long enough to not feel choppy or too fast. And surprisingly, both stories were ridiculously interesting! I was never bored with this novel.
The premise of this book caught my eye back when it was released. I am the kind of overly anxious person who always overthinks, especially when it comes to decisions. Yes, even simple decisions, like, should I go home or stay out? Should I stay home or make plans? Should I eat cake batter ice cream or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream? Yeah, living with me is unbearable. So immediately this novel appealed to me. How do my decisions really affect me and my life? I wonder about that all the time. I often ponder other versions of myself, versions who chose differently than I did, and where that Alyssa ended up. I’m not necessarily unhappy with my life or decisions (well, not all of them, of course), but it does weigh on me—constantly—how making a different choice would have changed my life. I think all of us, to some extent, think about this kind of stuff. So to find a book where we get to see one person’s life played out in two concurrent storylines was miraculous to me. How cool! And cool it was. I was riveted by this novel. I’m often let down by a promising premise, so having a book actually meet—nay, exceed—my expectations is refreshing.
As I said, both storylines are interesting and come with their own surprises. Though the events Hannah experienced were important in shaping her character, I think the romance was supposed to be the big thing to pay attention to. Will Hannah wind up with former high school sweetheart Ethan, or someone else? I had two theories about this book: 1) Both storylines would eventually merge, Hannah winding up with the same man in both universes, and the whole message would be that we all have a soul mate and no matter what we do or decide, we will always end up with that person, or 2) The storylines would start to merge, then segregate, with Hannah winding up with different men in each universe, and the message would be that soul mates are a made up construct and we fall in love with many people in our lives, and our choices will always change the course of our lives. I’m not going to spoil anything, of course. You’ll have to find out if I was right or not.
Though the romance was a huge aspect to this story, it was about a lot more than that. Maybe in Another Life dealt with so many hard-to-talk-about topics, ranging from adultery to abortion, religion to loss, and so forth. It was an airy novel at times, but also a heavy one. So many ranges of emotions! I listened to the majority of it at work and almost burst into tears at some parts.
The writing is fantastic, by the way. I may need to look further into Taylor Jenkins Reid. I loved everything about this book. Especially Hannah and Gabby. Hannah, the narrator, was incredibly relatable. I found myself saying “same” and “me, too, girl” while listening to some of her more embarrassing moments. She’s hilarious. And she made mistakes. But she owned them, and grew from them, and I respect the hell out of that. And Gabby is literally the most perfect best friend anyone could ask for. She was there for Hannah even in her darkest or most shameful moments. And she is so progressive, I loved it! She talked about God and being a Christian, but she wasn’t one of those ‘holier than thou’ types. She acknowledged other people’s beliefs and opinions. She wouldn’t judge someone for getting an abortion. She joked about lesbian power couples. And the best part about her: she was constantly bringing up the fact that women didn’t need to be thin or the conventional idea of beautiful to be successful. I need a Gabby in my life…
As you can see, I get really passionate about books I love, and I most certainly love this one. I am about to start shoving it at everyone I know—metaphorically, of course, since I listened to it and don’t actually have a copy (yet). Seriously, someone please read this and gush about it with me. I am in love, and I think I read it at a very appropriate time in my life. This book affected me deeply and personally, and it’s something I really needed tonight. Those are the kinds of books that will stay with me forever.
–“I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices and they led me somewhere else, led me to someone else. And my heart breaks for every single version of me that didn’t end up with you.”
–“You can only forgive yourself for the mistakes you made in the past once you know you’ll never make them again.”