At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, 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. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Have you ever read a book that you loved so much that it made a home somewhere deep inside your heart? Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid became that book for me. And in a time when my future is uncertain and I am faced with a crossroad of life, this book couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed to read this book. I’m so deeply glad that I did.
I have a confession: I’m a sucker for narratives that are about transcending life, finding your true love in another life, thinking about how our lives miraculously intersect with others and how they converge together to create meaningful relationships and moments. Maybe in Another Life is a meditation on how our choices shape and define our lives. To be given two narratives, where one decision can set her down two different paths, is not only a fantastic opportunity to cross-examine the similarities and contrasts, but also a compelling method of storytelling. Reid examines how one seemingly mundane decision not only affects the superficial, outer layers of our life – events that transpire, people we meet, places we live – but also how it can mould our self-growth and shape our beliefs in life. And let me assure you: the differences are, unexpectedly, inspiring.
With Hannah’s frequent contemplation about why things happened because ‘it was meant to be’, the book may appear fatalistic at face-value. However to denounce this book as such would be a superficial reading of the book. Contrary to Hannah’s beliefs, her musings are a subtle irony to the book’s overall message – that life is not a linear trajectory, but something constantly in motion, fluid, and changing. To Hannah, fate is more as a rationalization, a way to make peace with what has happened in life or a mechanism to help with healing and acceptance.
But, what if life is made up of constants and variables? To borrow the term from Bioshock Infinite, what if, in our life, there are some things that vary, but some things that will remain immutably the same? What if we are destined to meet certain people in our lives, though our way of meeting may be different? The question is an enigmatic, provocative undertone that shapes the narrative — with wondrous and intimate results.
And what sort of life would one have if it was without friendships? Though the climax is centred on Hannah’s romantic choices, Hannah and Gabby’s friendship is a reason alone to read this novel. Their friendship is supportive and loving, and their friendship interwove with the narrative in a meaningful way, rather than a decoration to the story. Depth, intimacy, years of history, and unspoken feelings manifest in dialogue, action and Hannah’s soliloquies. They are beautifully written, filled with nuanced idiosyncrasies. Reid understands relationships and people, evidenced by her ability to craft such complex, fantastic relationships.
For a book that evokes existential questions, Maybe in Another Life is extremely down-to-earth and examines the afflictions of growing up, securing a job, ascertaining where (or who) is home – all typically mundane in the grand scheme of things, but are undeniably turning points and significant moments in our lives. It is the honest, raw portrayal of life that makes this a quietly beautiful novel. There are seemingly unendurable hardships, jarring losses, missed opportunities, and regret, but there are also small joys like falling in love again, finding purpose, and the bittersweet step to move on. More so, the prose is simple, but never pretentious or boring. Satisfaction does not come from one-liners or climatic quotes, but from two humble journeys of a girl’s life, and the simple fact that we, as readers, can share this with her.
At its heart, Maybe in Another Life is a quiet coming-of-age story that demonstrates that growing up and changing doesn’t stop at the dawn of adulthood. It is also one of hope; the sort of book that reminds you of how to hope, that hope is never naive or futile, and that hope is an inherent, meaningful feeling that gives us strength to fight, love, survive, and live another day. This book succeeds in a plethora of ways, but it also succeeded in giving me hope, in reinvigorating my optimism, and for giving me courage to face my fears and follow my ridiculous dreams. Maybe in Another Life reminds us of the beauty and possibilities of life, that existence is an enigma but also wonderful. To me, that’s an invaluable gift.
Book Name: Maybe in Another Life
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press