And Again by Jessica Chiarella (5 out of 5)
A few weeks back, I got a phone call from Barbara at Simon & Schuster (Barbara calling Barbara’s? What the heck, bookverse?). Usually, Barbara calls for Holly, our children’s frontlist buyer, but she asked for me. She wanted me to do a “Meet & Greet” with the author of an upcoming book. That author is Jessica Chiarella, and the book coming out is And Again (for the record, friends, the book isn’t out until January 12, 2016. So put it somewhere that it isn’t out until next year, but write it down. There’s quite a buzz around this book, and there’s good reason for that.
I’m not quite sure what I expected. After reading the flyleaf and then the reviews on the back, I was excited to get a chance to read it before its release. And it was a book that stayed with me. I think it’s a book that is going to stay with a lot of people after they’ve finished it. I just read a book like that two weeks ago, and here’s another one. This is just one of those books that transcends the pages and stays STUCK in your subconscious. I guarantee it. When this sucker comes out in January, you’re going to have a great many reviewers who say the same thing.
Four radically different people get the chance of a lifetime (or so it seems)- to get to start their lives all over again, in genetically perfect new bodies. Connie, Hannah, David, and Linda were all terminally ill patients who get approved for the SUBlife pilot program. The SUBlife pilot program allows them to be “reborn” into new bodies that are exact replicas, but minus the imperfections that had been present before the operation. No more illness, no more wrinkles, age spots, or birth scars. What could you ask for? Sometimes, it seems, too much. All four of them had a ton of shit on their respective plates before the fact. Connie had a strong strain of the HIV virus and her looks rapidly slid downhill, which called disaster and a quick end to her career as a Hollywood actress. David’s a Congressman with a rapidly crumbling marriage and a reputation as a jerk(I thought he seemed like a pompous twit), until a brain tumor puts a halt to the impending divorce and possibly his life. Hannah is an artist who had the world at her feet until she got sick. Linda has a family that loves her, but a car accident and being in the hospital in a coma for 8 years, changes the entire picture. All of them have medical diagnoses that have brought them a terminal diagnosis, and here’s the chance for a whole new start. Always- always- always- be careful what you wish for. All four make it through the operation, and oh, how things change. They end up in a support group after the operations are a success. It’s through the minds and narratives of the four that the stories, desires, and feelings come out. If you weren’t fully invested at that point, after you get to know these characters, you’re all in. How do things play out for these folks? Do they run with their chance at starting over? Or do they lapse back into old habits, and reconvene with old demons? I can assure you, at the end of the novel, you have the answers, but with it come a whole new set of questions. This one will stay with you.
Human nature has a strong supporting role in this one. So does your sense of identity. Would you be the same person in a new body? Would you regress back to your past misdeeds and commit them all over again? How much of your baser instincts would you be able to ignore, in lieu of starting over? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are the four patients, as each one struggles with making peace with their newfound bodies and the realization that they are no longer the people they once were. What a deeply thought out book. I really would have no idea what to say or do if I were ever in a situation like one of the characters in the book. You wish, hope, and pray for the small things to disappear (age spots, dark circles under the eyes, wrinkles), that when they finally do and shit drastically changes, well, how do you cope? Chiarella’s book does a great job of exploring all of those avenues of the soul. There are no easy answers. That’s what I came away from this book thinking. I also came away thinking about every single one of those characters and how things end up for them, after the program and their participation. Wow. Just wow. Put yourself down for this book when it comes out on January 12, 2016.
Thank you to Barbara and Amelia at S&S for the advance copy of the book and for the chance to meet Jessica and discuss the book with her. I can’t wait!