The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

A Novel
by Alexis Schaitkin
28 Jun 2022
240 pages
Publisher: Celadon
Genre: Literary Fiction
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Richly emotive and darkly captivating, with elements of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and the imaginative depth of Margaret Atwood, Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin conjures a community in which girls become wives, wives become mothers and some of them, quite simply, disappear.

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.

"Schaitkin returns with the profound story of a remote mountain village defined by the routine disappearances of mothers...Schaitkin gives the goings-on great substance by digging into the complicated feelings brought on by motherhood and the judgments from others, all the while delineating the mothers' utter joy, frustrations, and love for their children. This is a standout." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Schaitkin has written a compelling, poetic, and chilling novel that examines fate and fear." - Booklist (starred review)

"A simply stunning work of speculative fiction. The prose is as magical as the haunting world Schaitkin creates; the story is as captivating as the prose; the characters, the imagery—flawless...Schaitkin's sophomore novel channels early Margaret Atwood, a magical, otherworldly story certain to be on plenty of 2022 'best of' lists." - Library Journal (starred review)

"In a complete departure from her debut, Saint X (2020), Schaitkin's sophomore novel is a fabulist narrative with Shirley Jackson overtones and Margaret Atwood...An elaborately imagined yet not quite satisfying fable of loss and isolation." - Kirkus Reviews

"Schaitkin's writing is transcendent. Elsewhere takes the visceral experience of motherhood―all its private joys, invisible fears, personal losses, and vague sensations of being judged―and turns it inside out, weaving each element into a dark fairy tale that is wise, gorgeous, and deeply moving." - Ali Benjamin, author of The Smash-Up

"Elsewhere is among my favorite novels of the last decade. There's an eerie, gorgeous magic to Schaitkin's vision that's related to the magic of Kazuo Ishiguro and Shirley Jackson but also entirely her own. I hadn't realized how much it would mean to me to witness an intelligence this fierce and singular, a capacity for feeling this deep, and a gift for language this extraordinary all trained on the subject of motherhood in all its wonder and strangeness." - Clare Beams, author of The Illness Lesson

Write your own review

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Buffalogirl
Self and Motherhood
There has been a recent uptick of novels regarding motherhood and women's roles in society which is understandable given the rise in extreme conservatism in America in the last twenty years. Alexis Schaitkin brings forward via speculative fiction the fears that I believe many women currently have regarding their ability to live and work as equals to men in our society without limits established by gender.

When I read the First Look available through #BookishFirst I was intrigued by the book's premise and its setting.

The storyline was strong and easy to follow, but I did find my interest lagging occasionally during journey of the central character, Vera, outside the colony. The characters were believable, and I found the use of German street names interesting. I loved the location. We vacationed in the Pacific Northwest last summer and I felt that I knew exactly where this town was located and could picture it perfectly somewhere far back in the North Cascades. The descriptions of the physical surroundings transported me to the village with its soft mist urging everyone to get home by lightly swirling uphill and downhill through the streets in early evening. The physical environment of the book was exactly as it should be.

When I started the book, I was focused on the dystopian setting and what happened to the women who suddenly disappeared. By the end of the book, I realized that I was more concerned about the concept of motherhood and what our current society expects of women.

This would definitely be a great novel for book club discussion. There are so many opportunities for discussion: motherhood, women's roles in society, marriage vs singleness, childrearing, insular societies, friendship, merits of education, etc. I will definitely be presenting it to my book club for consideration.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by kdowli01
Unique and thought-provoking
I haven't read much speculative fiction, so this was fun to explore. It was really unique and had a lot to think about. This would be great for book clubs to explore some of the themes it brought up. Thanks to @netgalley and @celadonbooks for the early copy.

Synopsis: Vera grows up in a small village in the mountains, where there are no strangers, it is believed to be the most beautiful place around, and the villagers face a strange affliction--on occasion, some mothers will simply vanish into thin air. When Vera becomes a mother herself, she tries to figure out how to stay, looking for signs that she might be the next to "go".

The writing was absolutely beautiful, and I was completely captivated by the story. It brought up key themes about identity and motherhood, and how women balance the expectations they face (or place on themselves) with maintaining their own identity but also wanting to be everything for their child.

The whole book evokes this really sad feeling, even parts that aren't necessarily sad. It's like the characters are constantly on edge for something to go wrong.

I did think some parts dragged a bit, and perhaps if I was a mother myself, I would have connected to it more. Also, what the heck was going on with the women licking men's blood during sex? Forget the disappearing women, that part was the weirdest!

I definitely enjoyed this, and appreciate how unique and thought provoking it was!

Alexis Schaitkin's debut novel, Saint X, was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2020 and was critically acclaimed by the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, and Good Morning America. It was recently picked up for a series adaptation by Hulu and has been translated into seven languages.

Her next novel, Elsewhere, was released by Celadon Books in June 2022. 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.

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