If someone told me today that I had to sit down and write a book, I think I would want to write one with a plot like Maybe in Another Life. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Hannah is in her late twenties and still looking for a place to settle down and call home (sound familiar?). She moves back to Los Angeles after a rough patch in New York that involved a relationship with an emotionally unavailable, married man. Her best friend hosts a welcome party for her with several close friends, including her ex-boyfriend from college. They reconnect and latent chemistry sparks throughout the night. Toward the end of the evening, when it’s time to leave the party, Hannah has to make a choice: does she want to go home with her friend and start life in LA with a clean slate, or does she want to go home with her ex Ethan and see if this past relationship might have a second chance.
Hannah decides to go home with her friend Gabby and start fresh.
Hannah decides to stay with Ethan and give their love another chance.
She gets to do both! The chapters alternate between each likely scenario and the reader sees how Hannah’s life develops through each course. As a writer, it would feel very liberating–not feeling so tied down to a specific plot line and allowing yourself to imagine and experience both alternatives.
And as a reader it felt like an adult version of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I really liked growing up. The results of each choice vary greatly and I liked imagining each wildly different version of Hannah. I thought that some of the characters were a bit flat and the writing saccharine at times, but overall it was a good speedy read.
What I really liked, however, was the debunking of the “everything happens for a reason” myth. I used to believe in that idea, but to be honest, a sermon I heard at church several years ago completely changed my attitude on that concept. Babies don’t die for a reason; women don’t get raped for a reason; people don’t starve for a reason. These events are not lessons that God or another higher power wants to teach us, and I think it’s okay not to look for a lesson or a reason in them. They are bad things that happen, because with all the free will in the world, bad things are bound to happen.
Further, believing that everything happens for a reason takes away a lot of agency and power from us. It’s as if we resign ourselves to just letting things happen around us or to us and not taking action, for good or for bad. How can we take pride or responsibility in our actions if they were already destined by someone else? It sounds like a passive existence, and I don’t think that’s what we are meant to experience here.
In each version of Hannah’s life, she says that fate led her to where she is and that this particular life was destined to occur. Of course, reading parallel versions of her life that are so different from one another, we can see that’s not true. It’s easy to see how that idea can be comforting in the face of misfortune, hopelessness, or uncertainty. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a world where sense and reason guide tragedy and unbearable sadness. But, personally, I think believing that things don’t happen for a reason takes some pressure off of decision making and releases us from the vise of vast unknown. In hindsight, it’s easy to reorganize your thoughts and actions into a cohesive narrative, but we know they don’t work like that.
For example: if I hadn’t moved to Switzerland six years ago I wouldn’t have met Adam and we wouldn’t be married and wouldn’t be living here. I might not have gone to graduate school and I might be teaching somewhere in Kansas City. And that makes me sad in a way because I really liked graduate school and Charleston and I love Adam and our life here. But, in this other version of my life, the one where I stay in Kansas City, I would probably be really happy. Maybe I would be teaching third grade at a great school. Maybe I would have met someone awesome who has a great sense of humor and loves me to no end. I would have been celebrating other victories and successes than the ones I am now.
Yes, things lined up the way they did and I’m grateful. But they would have lined up a different way had a gone to a different college, made a different inspiring friend along the way, said no to moving to Switzerland a second time. And everything would have been fine. I take a lot of comfort in that thought.
Maybe in Another Life is rich with discussion and insight, even within yourself as you can clearly see here. Book club of one! It wrestles with the concepts of fate, destiny, agency, and free will, which can be seen as pillars of our entire existence. Why are we here? What are we meant to do and learn? It’s all a bit heavy for Tuesday morning, but certainly worth examining.
What do you think? I hope I haven’t completely put you down if you find comfort in thinking everything happens for a reason. That wasn’t my intention. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(image via Simon & Schuster)