Vera grows up in a small town, removed and isolated, pressed up against the mountains, cloud-covered and damp year-round. This town, fiercely protective, brutal and unforgiving in its adherence to tradition, faces a singular affliction: some mothers vanish, disappearing into the clouds. It is the exquisite pain and intrinsic beauty of their lives; it sets them apart from people elsewhere and gives them meaning.
Vera, a young girl when her own mother went, is on the cusp of adulthood herself. As her peers begin to marry and become mothers, they speculate about who might be the first to go, each wondering about her own fate. Reveling in their gossip, they witness each other in motherhood, waiting for signs: this one devotes herself to her child too much, this one not enough—that must surely draw the affliction’s gaze. When motherhood comes for Vera, she is faced with the question: will she be able to stay and mother her beloved child, or will she disappear?
Provocative and hypnotic, Alexis Schaitkin’s Elsewhere is at once a spellbinding revelation and a rumination on the mysterious task of motherhood and all the ways in which a woman can lose herself to it; the self-monitoring and judgment, the doubts and unknowns, and the legacy she leaves behind.
Thoughts and Themes: I really enjoyed Saint X so I was pleased when Celadon books sent this one to me in the mail. This book is quite a different read from Saint X but it is written just as well. There is so much that this book makes you think about and I found it intriguing even if I am not a mother.
The start of this book which is mainly all of chapter one is very slow as this is building up the world these people live in. You have to stick with that chapter though so that you understand the rest of the book. By the time you start chapter two you are not really invested in the characters of the story but you are invested in this strange place that they inhabit and the affliction that has been taking mothers.
This book reads like a fairytale but it is so much more than that. This book goes into the fears and troubles of motherhood and what i means for different people. I loved getting to see how motherhood changes each of the women in this story and also see how Vera talks about motherhood. I also thought it was interesting how these woman were all hopeful for motherhood but at the same time this was something that they feared.
The last chapter of this book broke my heart and left with with so many questions and no answers. I want to hear what you all think about this ending before I spoil anything. If you’ve read this book please let me know what you think because I want to see other’s opinions and thoughts of this chapter.
Characters: In this book there are several characters that you meet through each of their interactions with our main character, Vera. I really enjoyed each of the people that you get to meet through their interactions with Vera and felt that each person added something to the story.
I really enjoyed how at no point in this book is Vera attached to the people that she meets, its as if she is just passing through life and places without any thought. I do love how connected she is with her daughter and then with the people who remind her of Iris.
Writing Style: This book is written in blah person through the perspective of our main character, Vera. I really enjoyed getting to see everything through Vera’s perspective because as a reader we only know what she knows. As she finds out more about the world outside of her home town so do we because at first we only know the small world she knows.
Something that I don’t like about the way this book is written is how long each of the chapters are. I felt that chapters dragged on and then they were seperated by physical line breaks which did made it easier to read but I felt that each of those breaks should have been another chapter.
Alexis Schaitkin is the author of Saint X. Her short stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. She lives in the Berkshires with her husband and their two children.