Reviewed by Katya Rara
By Kate Hope Day
272 pages. Random House.
In the beautiful Pacific Northwest, four neighbors start seeing startling, dreamlike visions of the people they could have been—visions that send them careening down paths they never believed they would ever take.
Reality meets possibility
If, Then begins with Ginny, a skilled surgeon whose work constantly keeps her away from her family. But while getting ready for bed one evening, she sees a vision of herself and a beautiful colleague in bed—a vision that causes her to wonder what if.
Ginny isn’t the only one seeing visions. Her husband Mark, a wildlife scientist, struggles to find funding for disaster research on the nearby Broken Mountain, and encounters a filthy, bedraggled man who looks just like him. Next door, real estate agent Samara grapples with her mother Ashmina’s unexpected death, until she sees Ashmina alive and well in their backyard. And just down the street, new mother Cass considers resuming her graduate degree in metaphysics, only to catch a glimpse of herself pregnant again.
The visions make the characters question the lives they’ve painstakingly built. And all the while, the dormant volcano beneath their feet seems to be awakening.
Parallel universes are the stuff of science fiction and fantasy, but Day’s debut novel reads like a suburban drama. In fact, the idea of a multiverse doesn’t seem like the plot, but rather a device through which we explore each character’s hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.
It may seem like the only purpose of the visions is to make the characters doubt—until you realize that If, Then shows us not just one reality, but multiple. Is it possible that all these lives are real? That they can touch? And if so, what does it mean?
Small town, universal stories
If, Then immediately grounds you with a strong sense of place, and Day’s writing creates a dreamy atmosphere that matches the misty mountain town of Clearing, Oregon that the characters call home.
As with most novels with an ensemble cast, some characters are more compelling than others. But though Ginny’s story—one of awakened desire and the re-evaluating of her priorities—was my favorite, each character had their own moment that hit me where it hurt—quotes and sections I marked with post-its because of how true they are.
Slumber and awakening
Though Day’s characters’ lives are entwined, brought together by the strange happenings in Broken Mountain, If, Then doesn’t seem to have a concrete plot. The stories run parallel to each other, and even when they collide, the stakes never feel high enough. I spent my energy trying to distinguish each reality from the other, rather than making sense of the point of the story.
However, Day is skilled at conveying emotions and how they touch others, weaving the slow decline of Ginny and Mark’s relationship with Cass’ loneliness as she tries to care for her eight-week-old daughter alone, as well as Samara’s struggles reconciling her memories of her mother with the secrets that are only beginning to be revealed.
The choices we make
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a quote by Deepak Chopra that said, “The universe has no fixed agenda. […] There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities […]” That is what If, Then is all about, peeling away any hints of speculative fiction or science: possibilities and, more importantly, what people do with them.
If, Then takes its time to make an impression, but one story is bound to reel you in, whether it’s that of Ginny, Mark, Cass, or Samara. And while the novel doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the premise, Day’s stories will stay with me for their thoughtfulness, their hope, and their heart.
If, Then by Kate Hope Day is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Katya has had a torrid romance with fiction for over two decades, and sneaks out in the middle of the day for clandestine rendezvous in cafés. She works in advertising and has four poodles. You can find her on Instagram @katerinarara.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]