IF, THEN by Kate Hope Day


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Possibilities and parallel lives collide in this debut novel about frustrated marriages, hidden desires, and environmental disaster.

When an emergency room pager disrupts Ginny, an ambitious surgeon, from her nighttime routine, she's surprised to look over and suddenly see her colleague Edith lying in bed—instead of her husband, Mark. "Ginny smells warm skin and damp sheets; she hears her own quickened breath....The woman reaches out, as if to stroke Ginny's hair. Then, in an instant, she's gone." Startled by this vision, Ginny seeks medical answers even as she pursues the desire it revealed. Meanwhile, Mark, an environmental scientist, struggles to gain the respect of his colleagues, who dismiss his obsessive research "on the connection between geothermal activity and animal behavior." (Perhaps it's because he gives his research project an unfortunate acronym: DAMN.) Compelled by an impending sense of doom he can't explain, Mark dives into the "prepper" communities of the Pacific Northwest and begins to build a backyard survival shelter for his family. Woven through the story of Ginny and Mark's crumbling marriage are the lives of their two neighbors, Samara, a young real estate agent still reeling from her mother's untimely death, and Cass, a young mother struggling to regain her footing as a philosophy Ph.D. after the birth of her daughter. Broken Mountain, a dormant volcano that "rises...misty green" above the town of Clearing, Oregon, looms over them all—giving off tremors that bring on visions of alternate realities. Day's first novel recalls the philosophical headiness of a TV show like Lost and remixes this sensibility with the chronological playfulness of Cloud Atlas or Atonement. But, until the story really takes off, the emotional stakes of the novel are low—and the prose feels flat and inert, almost like stage directions. There are more affecting moments in the second half of the book, like Samara's attempt to buy back her mother's effects from Goodwill: "The mound of miscellaneous things has grown almost as tall as she is. It looks heavy and dark and sad. You don't really want all that stuff, her mother's voice says. It was mine, and I didn't even want it." With all the atmospheric mist crowding out its emotional center, this book's heart is difficult to locate—but the occasional glimpses show promise.

A suburban drama built to leap from page to screen.

Pub Date: March 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-525-51122-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2019


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