The original starred Kirkus review praised Jay Neugeboren’s The Other Side of the World, the latest from the veteran, prolific author, by saying that, “Neugeboren presents a meditation on life, love, art and family relationships that’s reminiscent of the best of John Updike.” Its central relationship involves the itinerant Charlie Eisner, his professor father Max, and a notorious novelist, Seana O’ Sullivan, who was Max’s student and who becomes involved with both of them. Charlie also has a complicated relationship with Nick, his close friend and perhaps rival, who was married to and divorced from Charlie’s former girlfriend, who convinces Charlie to join him in Singapore and Borneo, and in whose death Charlie might well have been complicit. In a novel of relationships, often involving three or more, the most provocative relationship of all could well be that between life and art, as Charlie turns his experience into a narrative that may or may not be literally true but reflects a higher truth.
Is this a novel about (among other things) the nature or essence of storytelling?
Probably. Two of the main characters, Max Eisner and Seana O’Sullivan, are writers, and our narrator becomes a writer in the course of the novel (and we get to read the book he writes). It seems to me, too, that storytelling is always with us in our lives. Thus Seana: “But think about this, Charlie—a thought that may surprise you, given what I said before: that if there is such a thing as love, maybe it shows itself forth in stories and in who we choose to tell them to—in the way we exchange stories of our lives with others…”
Does the title refer to something more than the novel’s geographical expanse?
I hope so, though it does that too … but it also refers to all those unknown, mysterious worlds—out there, within us—that we don’t see and don’t know, yet desire to know.
Why do so many of the relationships involve three (or more) characters rather than two?
Because life’s like that, especially when it comes to romance, love, friendship, couples, marriage, etc. My sense—for this story, anyway—is that when there is a meaningful and/or intense relationship between two people, the presence of another person—ghostlike at times, tangible at others—is usually there too.
At one point, the novel quotes the protagonist’s professor father, who remembers telling his literature students that “Character was fate, and that there were no acts without consequences.” Does your novel illustrate this?
I do agree with Max that in literature, as in life, these truisms hold, and that if we forget that they underlie our lives as much as they do the stories we make from our lives, we risk creating lives and stories that make no sense and are without meaningful structure, texture, or coherence.
Your characters reference a wide range of authors, from William Faulkner to James Michener. Where do you see your novel along that literary continuum?
My characters think about writers because they are writers. When I write I rarely think about other writers. In fact, while I write novels or stories, I never read novels or stories: I’m too subject to their enchantments and, thus, much too vulnerable and suggestible.