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THE OTHER LIFE by Ellen Meister


by Ellen Meister

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15713-4
Publisher: Putnam

Instead of her usual lighthearted comedy, Meister (The Smart One, 2008, etc.) attempts spiritual uplift with this semi-supernatural story about a Long Island woman in crisis who accesses portals to an alternative life.

In the 1973 prologue, pregnant and depressed Nan goes into labor as she is attempting suicide. Thirty-six years later Nan’s daughter Quinn is living a comfortable suburban life with husband Lewis, who owns a fleet of taxi cabs, and 6-year-old son Isaac, a sensitive artistic prodigy. Pregnant with their second child, Quinn loves Lewis, but she is keeping two secrets: one, that she married him in part to prove to her mother—bipolar Nan, who committed suicide years earlier in 2002—that she could choose a normal guy; and two, that she is aware of the existence of a parallel world in which she is still with her old boyfriend, shock jock Eugene. Quinn carefully avoids the “portal” she knows waits for her in the basement, a “rupture in her universe.” Then amniocentesis reveals that the baby she is carrying has a rupture in her skull that may cause major birth defects or worse. Deciding what to do about her pregnancy, Quinn is drawn through the portal into a world where she lives an exciting, childless life with neurotic but exciting Eugene and where Nan is still alive—Nan evidently opened up the portal during her suicide attempt/birthing. As life in her married present gets more stressful, Quinn travels more frequently through the portal to be with Nan, and therefore Eugene. Not that there is much suspense about what choices she is going to make. She’d never desert little Isaac, and Lewis is a selflessly devoted husband, while Eugene is not only creepy but increasingly less attractive. And although the pregnancy is fraught with problems, the overtly stated pro-choice, anti-abortion message makes the outcome a no-brainer.

Despite the (rickety) fantasy bells and whistles, the end result is a standard-issue domestic tearjerker.